Mining giant BHP has admitted a lot of work is needed across the industry to restore trust with Aboriginal landowners after an investor revolt at rival company Rio Tinto sparked by the destruction of ancient sites.
BHP, which, like Rio, has major iron ore trades in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, gave testimony to the Federal Parliament’s Northern Australia Committee on Thursday.
The commission is investigating Rio’s detonation of the 46,000-year-old shelters in the Juukan Gorge, which sparked significant backlash and led to the resignation of CEO Jean-Sebastien Jacques and two other executives.
BHP has announced that it will not take any action based on existing Section 18 approvals for Aboriginal site disruption without extensive consultation with traditional owners.
Earlier this year, the WA government authorized BHP to destroy 40 key indigenous sites to expand the $ 4.5 billion iron ore project in the South Flank.
BHP has since established a heritage advisory board which allows the senior BHP staff to consult directly with representatives of the traditional owners, the Banjima people.
The company’s president of minerals in Australia, Edgar Basto, told the investigation that BHP had access to an independent territory in the country of Banjima with 11 million tons of high-grade iron ore that it had not wanted to disturb.
“We haven’t touched that yet,” said Mr. Basto.
“When there are problems that are difficult to solve, we have seen in the past that if there is good communication and a good culture of respect between the parties, we can solve these problems.”
In its submission to the investigation, the Banjima Native Title Aboriginal Corporation said it had been disrupted by “gag orders” given to traditional owners as part of their agreements, preventing them from publicly raising concerns.
Mr. Basto said that BHP had no intention of silencing traditional owners and had stated that it would not enforce any clauses to that effect.
He said BHP was proud of its commitment to Aboriginal people, but the industry as a whole needed to restore confidence.
Kimberley Land Council CEO Nolan Hunter said traditional owners should have the right to veto the destruction of important sites.
“Something is not right when there is more focus on protecting things (such as listed buildings) that are several hundred years old under the legislative framework … than sites that are thousands of years old,” he said. .
The traditional owners of the Juukan Gorge sites, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people, urged the committee to visit the sites and see the full impact of the destruction.
WA’s COVID-19 travel restrictions have prevented this.
Oil and gas giant Woodside will conduct the investigation Monday, and Rio executives are expected to be recalled at a later date.
Rio had approval for the Juukan blast, but did not tell the traditional owners that it had explored options to expand the mine without damaging the rock shelters.
Experts had attributed the sites to the highest archaeological significance in Australia.