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CME response to final report from Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia

The Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia (CME) acknowledges the publication of the final report, The Way Forward,  from the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia inquiry into Aboriginal cultural heritage and the events at Juukan Gorge – but reiterates its support for the State remaining  the primary regulator of cultural heritage. 

Director of Policy and Advocacy Rob Carruthers said CME and its member companies would carefully consider the recommendations contained in the report and thanked the Committee for the opportunity to contribute to the inquiry process.  

“The complexity of the issues examined in this national inquiry are reflected in the detail of the recommendations that are part of this report,” Mr Carruthers said. 

“While our sector is always open to ways in which we can improve what we do, CME and its member companies are steadfast in the view that any proposal to strengthen federal oversight on Aboriginal heritage matters would not deliver improvements and would only duplicate processes and relationships  that are best delivered at a local level with local stakeholders. 

“We remain committed to supporting the passage of Western Australia’s Aboriginal cultural heritage legislation as an absolute priority and in turn for the State to facilitate local Custodians having their say on protection of their cultural heritage.” 

Mr Carruthers highlighted the three phases of consultation towards the legislation undertaken by the McGowan Government since 2017, including a period of extended consultation since the release of a draft Bill in October 2020. 

 “Industry in WA hasn’t just waited for new legislation  – we’ve used this time to take action,” Mr Carruthers said.

“This has included actions such as reviewing existing heritage approvals, cultural heritage management plans and Native Title agreements to incorporate contemporary Aboriginal custodian views, reflect new information and better protect heritage values. 

“We remain hopeful that this critical legislation will be introduced into WA Parliament in 2021, marking a major milestone in the modernisation of WA’s Aboriginal cultural heritage regime.

“Introduction of this legislation into WA Parliament will allow stakeholders to begin the process of co-designing supporting regulations and guidance which reflect a modern, practical and balanced approach.  

“By extension, the resourcing and capacity building of PBCs to engage fully in a new regime will be critical to its success, and we welcome the McGowan Government announcement of an initial $10 million in funding to kickstart this process. 

“The McGowan Government understands how important this legislation is for the next phase of development and industry in WA and to ensure better outcomes for Aboriginal people. 

“Formalisation of consultation and agreement-making on cultural heritage management will enshrine the priorities of local Custodians in ongoing project development.” 

Mr Carruthers said strengthening relationships between mining and resources operators and Traditional Owners was incredibly important – now and into the future.  

“Mining has occurred in the Pilbara for more than six decades, and in the Goldfields for double that timeframe,” Mr Carruthers said. 

“We acknowledge that we haven’t always gotten things right, at times with deeply regrettable consequences.   Our commitment remains to invest in long-term relationships for mutual benefit, and we must continue to work hard to build open dialogue and respond to the priorities of our Indigenous partners.  

“Traditional Owners and Custodians continue to make an important contribution to the economic prosperity of all Australians by enabling mining on their lands, and the resources sector takes the responsibility of these partnerships extremely seriously.”