Major firms commit to Aboriginal heritage guidelines

Article by Tom Zaunmayr for Business News.

Some of Australia’s largest companies have committed to implementing new Aboriginal heritage protection measures which would grant Traditional Owners powerful rights of consent over Country.

The First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance on Tuesday launched the Dhawura Ngilan Business and Investor guides which will place Traditional Owners at the forefront of decision-making where cultural heritage is at stake.

Creation of the guides aims to address long-held concern ministers and governments act as key decision makers for cultural heritage, despite the United Nations stating this power should be vested to Traditional Owners.

“Today’s launch of the Dhawura Ngilan business and investor guides heralds a new period in Australia’s business relations, with commitment from the private sector to reach beyond legislative standards and implement leading practice for cultural heritage as defined by First Nations peoples,” FNHPA co-chairman Kado Muir said.

Firms supporting the guides from the get-go include BHP, which will funnel $1.2 million into the initiative, Lendlease Group, HESTA,
KPMG, and Perpetual.

Among 20 principles put forward under the guides are agreements to accept First Nations cultural heritage is a living entity, acknowledge intangible heritage, engage early on cultural heritage in an appropriate manner, apply free, prior, and informed consent, and to engage in agreements on equal terms with traditional owners.

That would see signatories to the guides reach agreements with traditional owners prior to undertaking work and respect their right to say no to a project, and to revoke or amend their consent.

BHP Australia president Geraldine Slattery said the company looked forward to implementing the guidelines over the next 18 months.
“We are grateful to the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance for their leadership in this initiative,” she said.

PKKP Aboriginal Corporation chairperson Merle Ashburton said it was encouraging to see companies go beyond legislative compliance to protect heritage.

“The private sector must not wait for laws to catch-up to community expectations regarding the right of Traditional Owners to free, prior and informed consent,” she said.

Launch of the guides comes seven months after the WA government broke its 2017 election promise to overhaul state Aboriginal heritage laws, and as the federal government prepares to introduce its long-awaited heritage policy stemming from the 2018 blowing up of Juukan Gorge.

National Native Title Council CEO Jamie Lowe, Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek, and First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance cultural heritage director Rachel Perkins. Picture: NNTC.


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