October 19, 2021: -On Monday, Australia will have to set out a new national legal framework to protect Aboriginal cultural heritage, an inquiry into the destruction of ancient rock shelters for an iron ore mine found in a report issued.
The new framework should including the power to withhold consent for development applications that could affect Aboriginal heritage and permit traditional owners to take civil action to enforce the new laws, the report says.
The parliamentary panel issued its findings after a 16-month inquiry into how Rio Tinto in the previous year destroying the sites at Juukan Gorge, Western Australia, which showed evidence of human habitation over 46,000 years from the previous Ice Age.
Widespread anger at the destruction of the caves cost the jobs of its chief executive Jean-Sébastien Jacques and two senior leaders and led Chairman Simon Thompson to flag he would step down in the year 2022.
The panel on Monday recommended that the Australian government legislate a new framework for cultural heritage protection at the national level in agreement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The report said that the new legislation should set out minimum standards for state protections and conform to international best practices around obtaining free prior and informed consent.
Traditional owners must have primary decision-making power about their cultural heritage in development processes, and new laws should allow them to withhold consent to the destruction of cultural heritage.
Also, new legislation must add adequate compliance and enforcement mechanisms and penalties.
“Traditional owners should be able to enforce Commonwealth protections through civil action effectively,” it recommended.
In December, its interim report, the inquiry said that Rio should pay restitution to the traditional owners of the destroyed area and laid out broader industry guidance, including the reviews consent practices.
The inquiry has held 23 hearings and received nearly 200 submissions since it began in June 2020.