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September 17, 2020

BHP rethinking its strategy to spare Aboriginal sites from destruction

Australian mining operator BHP has told a federal inquiry it has found a way to save 10, out of more than 40, Aboriginal sites it has permission to destroy under Western Australia’s outdated heritage laws.

By Yoana Cholteeva

BHP is also changing its plans for the South Flank iron ore mine extension, located in the Pilbara region in the north of Western Australia, after one of its lastest consultations with the Banjima traditional owners, who have long disputed the position of the mine.

The company has said it is reviewing all 57 of the permissions it has been granted, following the Juukan Gorge disaster in which Rio Tinto demolished a 46,000-year-old heritage site to source high-grade iron ore.

Influenced by recent events, Edgar Basto, head of BHP’s Australian operations, said that the miner is now focusing on improving its approach to better protect heritage sites in a process of deep engagement with traditional owners.

Late on Wednesday, BHP said in a press release that it “views its relationship with Traditional Owners as partnerships based on mutual respect and trust”.

The company also said: “We recognise that what was lost at Juukan Gorge is not only the loss of a site of deep and unique living cultural heritage, but also a loss of trust, not just for the company involved, but with impacts for the entire resource industry.”

“BHP has confirmed to Traditional Owners that, consistent with its normal processes, BHP will not act on existing section 18 approvals from the WA Government without further extensive consultation with the Traditional Owners. In the case of the South Flank project, BHP and Banjima have set up a Heritage Advisory Council and will speak to other Traditional Owners to understand the best approach for them.”

The company also pledges that if new information that changes the heritage significance of a site arises, then that new information is taken into account in decisions relating to that site (irrespective of any government approvals that might be in place), in consultation with Traditional Owners.

These clarifications are aligned with BHP’s commitment to Free Prior Informed Consent set out in the BHP Indigenous Peoples Policy Statement and BHP Indigenous Peoples Strategy.

The news comes on the same day an Australian parliamentary inquiry revealed that BHP pursued permission to damage Aboriginal cultural sites in April, despite being told of the distress it would cause Traditional owners, as reported by Reuters.

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