Federal government announces reforms in response to ‘shameful’ destruction of Juukan Gorge


The Federal Government will strengthen Commonwealth protections for Indigenous heritage sites in its long-awaited response to Rio Tinto’s destruction of a sacred rock shelter at Juukan Gorge, but traditional owners have said they have not been kept informed of developments.

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek joined Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney, Senator Pat Dodson and representatives of the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance to announce the reforms on Thursday, in response to reports from the Joint Committee over northern Australia regarding the destruction of Juukan Gorge. , May 24, 2020.

The Australian government has signed an agreement with the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance to guide the reform process in the recommendations identified in the committee’s reports on Juukan Gorge.

The government has accepted seven of the eight recommendations and is in discussions with the Alliance on the eighth issue; whether the ultimate responsibility for the protection of cultural heritage should rest with the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs or the Minister of the Environment.

The minister said new federal legislation would reflect free, prior and informed consent; tell the truth and open dialogue; and “true partnership – the type that can only be entered into by equals”.

Ms. Plibersek thanked the Traditional Owners who participated in the survey.

“Special gratitude is due to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura peoples, who are the traditional owners of Juukan Gorge. I can only imagine how painful it was to give your testimony,” she said.

“And I know how unfair it must have been that it was us, as state envoys who enabled this destruction, who were asking you to relive your pain in public.”

The Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) Aboriginal Corporation has expressed anger and disappointment at the announcement made in Canberra.

In a statement, PKKPAC Chairman Burchell Hayes said the company could not comment on the response because it had not been consulted on the content.

“It all started with the destruction of our cultural heritage, everyone keeps telling us they’re sorry about it, but actions speak louder than words,” Mr Hayes said.

“It seems a media event in Canberra is more important than giving the PKKP people the respect to ask us what can be done to try to prevent something like the destruction of the Juukan rock shelters from happening again, or even to let us know what the government is. Planning.

“We received an email on Tuesday November 22 from the minister’s office indicating that this was happening without any details or significant follow-up. We would have expected the minister to want to meet with us before making a public announcement about our country and our cultural heritage. It’s disappointing that the media knows more than we do.

Mr. Hayes said recent events have confirmed that the peoples of the PKKP, not the governments, should take care of themselves when it comes to their country.

“We have tasted the devastation and we know what to do.”

The minister said she understands why First Nations people “don’t always trust the government’s intentions or don’t always trust our ability to listen and learn.”

“It is unthinkable that we knowingly destroy Stone Henge, or the Egyptian pyramids, or the Lascaux caves in France. When the Bamiyan Buddhas were destroyed in Afghanistan, the world was rightly outraged. But that is precisely what happened in Juukan Gorge,” she said.

Ms Plibersek said the reports detailed “how we got to this shameful moment”.

“(It is) important for Australians to understand what happened. It was a legal desecration. No law has been broken here. Instead, we had a whole system frustrating the interests of Indigenous history and culture.

She said the reports revealed the national failure to protect indigenous cultural heritage.

“There have been partnership agreements signed under glaring power imbalances, which have only ever really been understood by one party,” she said.

“There were gag clauses, which meant that traditional owners were not allowed to speak publicly without permission from Rio Tinto. There was a corporate culture that never took obligations seriously. of business… There were weak state laws.

She said existing federal Indigenous heritage legislation was designed as a last resort and was “confusing, difficult to access and ultimately ineffective.”

Campaign group Save Our Songlines, which opposes further industrial development on WA’s Burrup Peninsula, said similar destruction was taking place in the state.

Mardudhunera’s wife, Raelene Cooper, said the federal response to the Juukan Gorge report comes “as we await a report for the government on the ongoing damage and desecration affecting the sacred rock art of Murujuga.” .

“Destruction similar to what happened at Juukan Gorge is happening right now and every day, as broadcasts from the Burrup Hub degrade the rock art of Murujuga,” she said.

“The desecration of Murujuga is happening right now under the same weak laws that enabled the destruction of Juukan Gorge.

“The Minister has the opportunity to step in and offer real protection in response to our request under Article 10.”


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