New Laws Are Desperately Needed To Prevent Another Juukan Gorge Disaster

A Federal Inquiry has made its recommendations 16 months after Rio Tinto blew up the sacred site.

Juukan Gorge Inquiry

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After 16 months of hearings, a parliamentary inquiry investigating Rio Tinto’s destruction of the Juukan Gorge has called for new laws to be put in place to protect other Indigenous sites from the same fate.

Last May, the mining group blew up the sacred landmark in Western Australia days before Reconciliation Week, after ignoring Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) community leaders who had emphasised its cultural significance.

“The destruction of Juukan Gorge was the result of Rio Tinto’s failures, but the events also highlighted the inadequate protection afforded by the Western Australian Aboriginal Heritage Act,” said the chairman overseeing the inquiry, Warren Entsch. “Throughout the course of the inquiry, it became apparent that there are serious deficiencies across Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage legislative framework, in all states and territories and the Commonwealth.”

In the recommendations shared on Monday, the Committee said the Federal Government should prioritise heritage protection at a national level that co-designed with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and giving them “primary decision-making power”. Additionally, an independent Indigenous council should be introduced to offer a “specialist voice” on protection queries, while the Minister for Indigenous Australians, not the Environment Minister, was suggested to be responsible for heritage cases.

The damage to Juukan Gorge led to three of Rio Tinto’s top executives resigning, and an apology from the group, but it was only one of “countless instances where cultural heritage has been the victim of the drive for development and commercial gain,” the final report read.

“There continues to be much written and said both about what happened leading up to the destruction of the Juukan caves, and the priceless artefacts within them, and what should be done to stop such behaviour from happening again,” the PKKP Aboriginal Corporation said in response. “For the PKKP, actions, not words, will be the true test.”