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Aboriginal Heritage reforms remains priority for resources industry in Western Australia

The mining and resources sector in WA strongly supports the protection of Aboriginal Heritage and related sites.  The sector also strongly supports reform of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (WA) which is being ably led by the WA Indigenous Affairs Minister, Hon Ben Wyatt MLA.  Reform of the Act, which has been underway for two years, will deliver a modernised legislative framework which further empowers Traditional Owners and local knowledge holders to make decisions about their own cultural heritage.   

The Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia’s (CME) Chief Executive Paul Everingham said that the regulation of cultural heritage was a State responsibility and therefore any shortfalls in existing State legislation must be addressed by State-based reform. 

Mr Everingham said this was the sensible approach the WA State government had taken and was supported by industry.

“The decision by the Australian Parliament yesterday to conduct an inquiry into Juukan Gorge in WA and the operation of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (WA) seeks to dilute WA State-based reform which has been underway for two years and will see significant reforms and legislation in the WA Parliament by the end of the year,” he said.

Mr Everingham said the resources sector had partnered with Indigenous people for decades and was among the first to enter into comprehensive agreements with Traditional Owners, which continue to deliver a range of meaningful, long term benefits.

“Operating on Native Title land is a responsibility taken very seriously by the resources industry, and this is demonstrated by the significant and ongoing investment by industry in land use agreements,” he said.

“The resources sector in Western Australia fundamentally supports the empowerment of Indigenous people and has championed beneficial economic and social outcomes for Indigenous people through employment, procurement, agreement making and community investment for many decades.

“Efforts must be directed to this important WA State reform and not diluted by a far-removed inquiry.” 

CME is optimistic that broad-based consultation with Indigenous groups, industry and community stakeholders will be maintained in the final stages of the reform process leading to bipartisan support for a Bill to be introduced into Parliament later this year. 

The WA mining and resources sector has a strong relationship with the Indigenous community built over many years of engagement and consultation.

Mr Everingham said this relationship was of fundamental importance to the sector and the self determination of Indigenous groups.

“Indigenous business procurement in the WA mining and resources sector totalled more than $522 million in 2019, demonstrating the commitment by the sector in supporting the economic development of Indigenous businesses and the economic independence of Aboriginal people,” he said.

“The WA mining and resources sector is one of the State’s largest employers of Indigenous Australians, with a recent survey revealing Indigenous participation in the sector at 4.7 per cent, compared to just 1.9 per cent across the entire WA workforce.   Around 22 per cent of apprentices and trainees in the WA mining and resources sector are Indigenous, providing the sector with a significant talent pipeline to facilitate Indigenous people to succeed and progress into a range of roles, including positions of leadership.

“The long-term nature of resource sector agreements negotiated by industry proponents has facilitated step-changes for many communities and we sincerely hope will continue to do so into the future.”