MAC: Mines and Communities

Less than 10 per cent of mining companies in Australia mention Aboriginal engagement, study

Published by MAC on 2020-12-10
Source: ABC

More than 60 per cent of the country's mines neighbour Aboriginal communities.

We must surely continue reminding our readers of the continuing appalling "power imbalance" between Aboriginal Australians and the beneficiaries of white colonialism. These persist to this very day, as evidenced by discrimination at mining management and employment level.

The origins of such totally unjust treatment lie deep within Australia's past two hundred years and more history. The bloody battles waged by 19th century miners, cattle barons, and agricultural hegemonists, to possess territory and resources through outright black extinction, were followed by forcible ideological "assimilation" of Aboriginal identity, later metamorphosing into one of the largest-ever global attempts to
de-culturise entire peoples.

Even now, there is but a partial, contradictory, legal recognition of Indigenous "rights" - by those who were never entitled to usurp them at the very outset of the white invasion.

[Comment by Nostromo Research]

See also:

2020-11-18 Fortescue accused of 'bullying' Aboriginal groups in Australia

Less than 10 per cent of mining companies in Australia mention Aboriginal engagement, study finds

Gabriella Marchant

2 December 2020

Less than 10 per cent of companies mining in Australia have publicly stated their positions regarding engagement with Aboriginal communities, land rights, and the preservation of culturally significant sites, research shows.

Key points:

A Uni SA study assessed the 2017 annual and sustainability reports of 448 companies against a range of outcomes developed by Reconciliation Australia.

It found just 36 companies, or eight per cent, mentioned any ideology, policy, or initiatives related to Aboriginal people.

Mining companies' interactions with Australia's Indigenous community have been in the spotlight since Rio Tinto's destruction of sacred rock shelters at Juukan Gorge in northern Western Australia earlier this year.

The report quoted Minerals Australia research that found more than 60 per cent of the country's mines neighbour Aboriginal communities.

Larger companies better at disclosure

The research further analysed the 36 companies that did publicly disclose their policies and found that "large mining companies provided detailed disclosure on their Aboriginal engagement initiatives".

It found "land use and native title agreements were the highest disclosed Aboriginal engagement issue", which the research said was unsurprising given it was the only area governed by strict regulation.

Given broader reporting was voluntary, the report said a "low level of disclosure on Aboriginal engagement issues does not necessarily indicate a lack of effective engagement practices".

Instead, it said there was a "need to develop an accounting and reporting framework at the organisational level to capture these social disclosures".

'Power imbalance' still exists

Uni SA researcher Amanpreet Kaur said disclosures were important not only for the public, but for the "insight gained by the company itself, as [it] requires directors to carefully assess and plan their own course of action".

Dr Kaur said the analysis also highlighted a lack of Indigenous people in senior leadership positions.

"We found there was a power imbalance," she said.

"Because when we looked at employability disclosures there was very little evidence Aboriginal people are being involved in leadership positions."

The report said Aboriginal people were mostly employed in "supervisory roles or as individual contributors" with "little evidence … regarding their involvement in specialised and leadership roles".

Rio Tinto was quoted as saying it was "proud to be one of the largest private sector employers of Indigenous Australians".

It said it employed "1,431 full-time Indigenous employees … [which] represented approximately eight per cent of our Australian employees in 2017".

But the research found those statistics did not translate into executive and leadership positions across the industry.

"Although the Aboriginal communities are regarded as traditional custodians and owners of mining lands, they are largely perceived as receivers of the benefits, not providers of resources that are crucial for mining companies and their businesses," Dr Kaur said.

She said "Aboriginal communities were largely treated as a marginalised stakeholder group, similar to women".

Indigenous leadership could help avoid mistakes

Dr Kaur said a greater concentration of Indigenous people in leadership positions could help to prevent incidents like the destruction at Juukan Gorge.

"That will give Aboriginal communities power to control what happens and is something that is really needed to minimise or reduce – or even possibly eliminate, if that's possible – such incidents," she said.

Dr Kaur also said companies would likely benefit from Aboriginal employees' executive input.

"They have thousands of years of knowledge and expertise of land management and the local environment," she said.

Dr Kaur said progress was being made, with some companies in particular "fostering meaningful engagement with marginalised stakeholders by acknowledging the expertise of the Aboriginal community in local environmental and cultural sustainability".

"The problem is they are just not widespread enough and there isn't the awareness in the industry of how to go about this," she said.

"The next phase of our research will construct a framework for companies to develop these kinds of disclosure statements to help them learn from each other and ensure there are techniques for evaluating their effectiveness."

 $14 trillion investor coalition puts Australia's miners on notice over Indigenous rights

28 Octboer 2020

A coalition of global investors managing a collective $14 trillion has written to Australia's biggest mining companies describing Rio Tinto's destruction of Aboriginal rock shelters as a wake-up call and demanding assurances about their relationships with First Nations peoples.

In a letter circulated on Thursday, the investor group which included America's Fidelity, the Church of England Pensions Board and several top local super funds said their long-term investments meant they needed to have confidence in how miners obtained and maintained their "social licence" with the traditional custodians of their land on which they operated.

The push comes after traditional owners were left devastated and investors shocked and outraged at Rio Tinto's ill-fated decision to blast through two culturally significant 46,000-year-old rock shelters at Western Australia's Juukan Gorge to enlarge an iron ore mine. Over several weeks, some of Australia's largest superannuation funds applied pressure for greater accountability for the disaster that eventually forced the resignations of Rio's chief executive Jean-Sebastian Jacques and two of his deputies last month.

"The events at Juukan Gorge have shown this is a significant risk for investors and have prompted us all to take a deeper look at how relationships between companies and First Nations and Indigenous peoples are formed and function," said the letter, whose signatories also included HESTA, Cbus Super, the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI), Aviva Investors, Legal & General, AXA, and the California State Teachers' Retirement System.

"We believe that investment risk exists where there is a mismatch between a company's stated approach to relationships with First Nations and Indigenous communities and what happens in practice."

The letter was mainly addressed to miners with operations in Australia, such as BHP, Glencore, Fortescue Metals Group, South32, Oz Minerals, Newmont, Anglo American, and Northern Star. Recipents also included foreign giants, such as Brazil's Vale, US gold miner Barrick and Pan American Silver Corp.

Ever since traditional ownership rights were recognised in Australia, Indigenous groups have been entering into legally binding native-title agreements with mining companies, which provide valuable royalty streams in exchange for the impact to their cultural heritage and wealth derived from their land.

However, the Juukan Gorge disaster and subsequent federal parliamentary inquiry have shone a spotlight on a power imbalance underpinning negotiations between resources giants and Indigenous groups, including the use of "gag clauses" in land use agreements that prohibit traditional owners from publicly objecting to mining activity. Rio Tinto has also conceded multiple failures in its heritage-protection processes and engagements with traditional owners – the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) people – in the lead-up to the blasting of the gorge.

"This issue has exposed material investment risk for investors," ACSI chief executive Louise Davidson said.

"We want to understand how companies across the industry are managing these risks and working to ensure that a disaster like the Juukan Gorge never happens again."

The investors said in the letter they were committed to working with the mining sector to support the development of processes and standards that would ensure disasters such as the destruction of the Juukan Gorge caves were never repeated. "To do so, we need to better understand your approach to management of cultural heritage and First Nations and Indigenous community relations," it said.

The group said it intended to gather responses from the companies before "initiating a dialogue" involving input from community representatives and mining executives.

Debby Blakey, chief executive of $52 billion super fund HESTA, said the Rio Tinto disaster had been a "wake-up call" for miners – and investors making long-term decisions – about the importance of managing the risks associated with Indigenous heritage appropriately. "Not only so we can mitigate financial risk for our members' investments, but also so we can ensure there are fair and sustainable outcomes for indigenous communities and companies," Ms Blakey said.

Juukan Gorge traditional owners given 'gag order' warning by lawyers for Rio Tinto, inquiry hears

Eliza Borrello and Karen Michelmore

12 October 2020

Lawyers for mining company Rio Tinto warned traditional owners trying desperately to save the 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge rock shelters that they could not speak publicly about the issue, an inquiry has heard.

They were also told they could not apply for a federal emergency halt to works without first asking Rio Tinto's permission and giving 30 days' notice, according to Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Carol Meredith.

The caves were destroyed in May on the traditional Pilbara lands of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people, as part of Rio's bid to access $135 million worth of iron ore.

Speaking via teleconference, Ms Meredith said Rio was applying pressure to the group as they tried to stop the works.

"What we were reminded of by Rio's lawyers was that we were not able to engage seeking out an emergency declaration that perhaps would have stopped proceedings, because of our claim-wide participation agreement," she said.

"We were hamstrung and we were reminded that we were not to speak about this publicly, that we had the gag clauses and we needed to remain compliant.

"If we were to proceed to seeking an emergency declaration. we were required to seek permission from Rio before we took that option, and we had to give 30 days' notice and table every document we were going to use in that application.

"So for us in the time span available, it was not in fact an option."

Financial payments left at risk, PKKP says

Northern Territory MP Warren Snowden asked Ms Meredith what the PKKP people would have lost if they breached the agreement.

She replied that they would have lost out financially.

"We are in danger in fact of losing all the benefits that come with the agreement … which is a very serious outcome from our people," she said.

"It wasn't an equal partnership then and it certainly isn't now."

The PKKP people have made little media comment since the blast.

In the context of discussion about the gag clause, Northern Territory MP Warren Snowden asked if the PKKP people would be able to speak to a media organisation if one approached it after the hearing.

Several PKKP members responded by saying "no".

Later, PKKP Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Carol Meredith added the organisation did not want the examination of the blast to turn "into a media circus".

"We are not anti-mining," she said.

Rio Tinto accused of packing explosives despite concerns

The hearing also heard evidence from the PKKP people's cultural and heritage manger, Heather Bluith, that even after the they had protested about the imminent destruction of the caves, Rio kept loading explosives.

"We were having all these high-level meetings [and] at the same time they were having these discussions, they were still loading up the blast holes," she said.

In a statement a Rio Tinto spokesman said the company "reiterate" that what happened at Juukan Gorge was "wrong."

"We are determined to ensure that the destruction of a heritage site of such archaeological and cultural significance never occurs again at a Rio Tinto operation," he said.

Fears for artifacts taken from caves

Concerns were also raised about the safety of significant ancient artefacts collected during archaeological surveys at the site.

The PKKP's group's cultural and heritage manager, Heather Bluith, said many artefacts were held by Rio Tinto in shipping containers at the Brockman mine site, with others on display in the administration building.

She said the traditional owners did not have access to the artefacts without permission from Rio Tinto.

"They have been out in a sea container going from 7 degrees [Celsius] to 60C on a daily routine, and we are really worried about their condition," she said.

Rio Tinto said some artefacts were stored in a secure air conditioned room at a company building in Dampier, and a new storage facility would be installed on site that could be used to house them.

A Rio spokesperson said the firm was working with the PKKP on how they would like the artefacts stored.

FMG applies for nearby mining lease

The inquiry also heard the PKKP people were "pretty upset" Andrew Forrest's Fortescue Metals Group recently applied for a mining licence.

Ms Meredith said the PKKP had worked with Rio Tinto after the Juukan Gorge destruction to secure a temporary moratorium for six months on any further work in areas of high cultural sensitivity.

But in the past three days, she said traditional owners had become aware FMG had a prospecting licence in the moratorium area and was now seeking a mining licence.

"We agreed on a moratorium area and we weren't told by anyone that there was potential for FMG to come in from the side and actually apply for a mining licence," she said.

FMG issued a statement saying it had held prospecting licences since 2012 over an area 10 kilometres away from Juukan Gorge.

"As the Prospecting Licenses are reaching the end of their term, Fortescue submitted a Mining Lease application over this area which is consistent with normal practice," the company said in a statement.


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