ACSI has today welcomed the final report from the Standing Committee on Northern Australia’s inquiry into the destruction of 46,000-year-old caves at the Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara. The report builds upon the findings of the interim report handed down in December that identified a significant failing in the way Rio Tinto managed its relationship with Traditional Owners, as well as gaps in the relevant legal frameworks.
“We welcome the inquiry’s recommendations about strengthening the legal framework for cultural heritage protection,” ACSI CEO Louise Davidson said. “Strong legislative frameworks provide investors and businesses with more certainty in managing material financial risks relating to cultural heritage and Indigenous rights protection.”
In particular, ACSI supports the recommendation for the new legislative framework to be co-designed with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups and aligned with international law and standards of best practice. This includes the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and Dhawura Ngilan: A Vision for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage in Australia.
Long-term investors support structural and cultural changes to the way companies engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It is crucial to have a legal framework that will improve engagement between companies and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups and safeguard their rights.
The destruction of the caves was a devastating loss of cultural heritage for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the broader community. It also demonstrated the material risks for investors and potential to erode long-term shareholder value.
“Companies should engage in good faith and work to build constructive long-term relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples whose lands, communities and cultural heritage are impacted by their operations,” Ms Davidson said. “There should be transparency on how companies approach these issues and engagement must continue throughout the life of projects.”
ACSI’s work on these issues is ongoing and intends to provide investors and companies with research and practical guidance to further raise awareness.
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