Australian state and federal governments don’t agree on much: from the handling of COVID-19 to how we can thrive after our most recent recession but there’s one thing they seem to have an understanding on – watering down of Indigenous Rights for commercial gains.

The mining industry is the largest economic contributor to Australia’s GDP, which makes Rio Tinto and the other major mining giants too powerful and influential for the poorest and most disadvantaged people in the country to fight against, which has cost Indigenous people and all Australians cultural assets that you can’t put a price on and have now been lost forever.

Yet, nothing could have prepared the nation for the blatant disregard of Indigenous Rights from Rio Tinto when they blew up the Juukan Gorge rock shelters, a 46,000-year-old sacred Aboriginal site. The reaction across Australia, which is sometimes quiet on Indigenous Rights, was one of outrage and pure disbelief.

An Australian parliamentary inquiry has recommended in a report that the mining giant compensate traditional owners for the loss of the sacred site, but how do you put a price on something like this? And who decides if the payment is fair, Rio Tinto? The same people who destroyed it to make some money…

Of course, another mining giant, Fortescue released a statement about the Australian parliamentary inquiry calling the voluntary moratorium on applying for new permissions on all mining “unfeasible and impractical” and does not support amendments and oversight at the Federal level. The same company that has kept $1.9m in royalties from Indigenous owners knows best…

How did we get here?

Indigenous people only makeup 5% of the world’s population but protect 80% of the world’s biodiversity. There’s always going to be some tension and concern (understandably) when miners propose to destroy large amounts of land that their ancestors have looked after and protected for millenniums.

This potential threat to the most powerful and influential industry in Australia has seen continued pressure over the years on politicians to water down Indigenous Rights for the sake of approving mining proposals and generating revenue for governments.

According to Fortescue’s CEO, Elizabeth Gaines “It is important that an appropriate balance is found between progressing important legislative reform while supporting the continued economic benefit provided by the mining industry in Western Australia.”

The number one argument for disregarding Indigenous Rights seems to be to focus on immediate financial returns instead of the long-term sustainability of the land and biodiversity, which has been seen in other countries like Brazil that has moved to publicly legalise crime against Indigenous people for commercial gains.

Indigenous people have only been given a fraction of their land back from colonisation, yet Australia and other countries still prioritise commercial gains over the rights of Indigenous people.

‘It’s time to stop looking away’

Lidia Thorpe

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