BHP says traditional owners free to weigh in on cultural heritage inquiry

16.9.2020, 13:48 - eeppo

Mining giant BHP (ASX, LON, NYSE: BHP) has told Australian Aboriginal groups to freely speak their mind about the way it manages cultural heritage as the miner readies to appear before a federal inquiry launched following rival Rio Tinto’s (ASX, LON, NYSE: RIO) destruction of two 46,000-year-old sacred shelters

Both companies have been criticized for having gag clauses in land agreements preventing traditional owners from publicly objecting to developments.

“BHP has confirmed to traditional owners that it does not regard any term of its agreements with them as preventing them from making public statements about cultural heritage concerns,” it said in the statement. “If any provision in BHP’s agreements can be regarded as having this effect, then BHP will not enforce that clause.”

The Melbourne-based also noted it had “strong existing internal processes” in place to ensure that if new information arises that changes the heritage significance of a site, that is taken into account in decisions relating to the place.

Some of the biggest mining projects and railways are located on, or right next to, traditional land of the Banjima people in the iron-ore rich Pilbara region of Western Australia state.

Traditional owners, however, are limited by contracts to speak against specific mining activities, the Banjima Native Title Aboriginal Corporation said in August to the Australian government enquiry committee.

“The destruction at Juukan Gorge has highlighted the fact that, despite the best of intentions, Indigenous heritage areas lack adequate protection,” Warren Entsch, the chair of the Joint Standing Committee of Northern Australia’s public hearings into the heritage site destruction, said this week.

BHP has government approval to disturb 40 heritage sites as part of a mine expansion, but it has pledged not to proceed while discussions with the Banjima continue.

“We recognise that what was lost at Juukan Gorge is not only the loss of a site of deep and unique living cultural heritage, but also a loss of trust, not just for the company involved, but with impacts for the entire resource industry,” the company said.

BHP will appear before an Australian parliamentary inquiry into the Rio incident on Thursday.

More to come…