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Parliamentary inquiry into destruction of Indigenous heritage sites

Juukan Gorge in 2013, left, and 2020.(Supplied: Puutu Kunti Kurrama And Pinikura Aboriginal Corporation, Composite ABC News)
Juukan Gorge in 2013, left, and 2020.(Supplied: Puutu Kunti Kurrama And Pinikura Aboriginal Corporation, Composite ABC News)

The Northern Australia Committee has commenced an inquiry into the destruction of the Indigenous heritage sites at Juukan Gorge.

The inquiry will examine how the destruction of the caves came about; the processes that failed to protect the site; the impacts on Traditional Owners; and the legislative changes required to prevent such incidents from recurring.

Committee Chair, Warren Entsch, said that it was inconceivable that such a valuable heritage site could be destroyed in complete accordance with the law and without any means for Traditional Owners or their representatives to effectively intervene.

‘The Committee wants to find out how this was allowed to happen and how we will prevent such occurrences in the future. The States and Territories and the Commonwealth have an absolute obligation to preserve our Indigenous heritage for the benefit of all Australians’, Mr Entsch said.

The Committee welcomes submissions from all interested parties. The deadline for submissions is 31 July 2020.

 Terms of Reference

The Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia will inquire into and report on, by 30 September 2020: 

The destruction of 46,000 year old caves at the Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara region of Western Australia with particular reference to:

(a) the operation of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (WA) and approvals provided under the Act;

(b) the consultation that Rio Tinto engaged in prior to the destruction of the caves with Indigenous peoples;

(c) the sequence of events and decision-making process undertaken by Rio Tinto that led to the destruction;

(d) the loss or damage to the Traditional Owners, Puutu, Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people, from the destruction of the site;

(e) the heritage and preservation work that has been conducted at the site;

(f) the interaction, of state indigenous heritage regulations with Commonwealth laws;

(g) the effectiveness and adequacy of state and federal laws in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage in each of the Australian jurisdictions;

(h) how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage laws might be improved to guarantee the protection of culturally and historically significant sites;

(i) opportunities to improve indigenous heritage protection through the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999; and

(j) any other related matters.

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AMSJ April 2022