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Projects will be at the mercy of anti-mining activists under new rules

Black Lives Matter protestors
Dumbartung Aboriginal Corporation

Mining companies that damage Indigenous Australian cultural sites without prior permission will be heavily fined.

The Western Australian Government is cracking down against projects that act contrary to the wishes of Aboriginal anti-mining activists, with new penalties of up to $10 million introduced.

‘Stop work’ orders

The draft Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill will force proponents to seek “informed consent” from traditional land owners, especially if there is any chance of destruction of locations considered to be of great cultural significance.

If passed, the bill will empower Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt to issue stop work orders, if an anti-mining activist reports a project for risking areas of “heritage significance” or even greater significance than first thought.

These measures were introduced in response to the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia’s inquiry into the detonation of two rock shelters, which allegedly contained artefacts estimated to be 46,000-years-old. Rio Tinto conducted the controlled explosion at Juukan Gorge on May 24, destroying grinding stones, a bone sharpened into a tool and 4000-year-old braided hair that were inside the hidden shelters.

The work was intended to excavate the first mine pit as part of the Brockman 4 Iron Ore Expansion, 55km northwest of Tom Price but the indigenous Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura People complained they felt distressed by the accidental damage even though the expansion was approved back in the year 2013. Rio has profusely apologised many times for any distress caused.

Apology may be premature

QMEB understands there was nothing illegal with Rio’s detonation since the section 18 approvals system stated there was no way to stop a site from being disturbed, if the government has already approved the project.

“What that highlighted is the fact that the current regime does not allow for new information to come forward and, even if it had, [there are] very limited options, almost no options for the minister of the day,” Wyatt said according to the Australian Associated Press. “Both of those will be corrected.”

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Mining companies will have 12 months to comply and the State Government will keep accepting section 18 applications.