The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) has filed a Shareholder Resolution to Fortescue Metals Group (ASX:FMG), requesting that the company publicly support WA Aboriginal peoples’ calls on the Western Australian Government to pause the enactment of the draft Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill 2020 in its current form and engage in good faith with WA Aboriginal Traditional Owners and their representative organisations to co-design improved WA cultural heritage protection law and regulations. The resolution is filed with the support of the National Native Title Council and the WA Aboriginal Heritage Alliance.
The WA Aboriginal position is consistent with the findings and recommendations of the Juukan Gorge Parliamentary Inquiry’s Interim Report of December 2020 entitled Never Again.
The Juukan Inquiry recommended, among other things, that the Western Australian Government “Replace the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 with stronger heritage protections as a matter of priority, noting the progress already made in consultation on the draft Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill 2020. Any new legislation must as a minimum ensure Aboriginal people have meaningful involvement in and control over heritage decision making, in line with the internationally recognised principles of free, prior and informed consent, including relevant Registered Native Title Bodies Corporate under the Native Title Act...”.
Commenting on the resolution, James Fitzgerald, Legal Counsel at ACCR said:
“Investors simply can’t stand by and watch another Juukan Gorge disaster unfold. The moral dimension is obvious. However stronger, fit-for-purpose cultural heritage protection law is also essential to mitigate the social, reputational and business risk to mining companies operating in Western Australia. In 2021 the new heritage protection laws should enjoy the informed consent of affected Aboriginal people. We are advised that the current WA Bill does not.
“As investors, we believe it’s necessary that this shareholder resolution receive strong support —or preferably be proactively adopted by FMG’s Board —because there is far too much at stake to allow virtual industry self-regulation to continue. In the wake of Juukan Gorge, investors know that business as usual is unacceptable.
“FMG has a contestable history of engagement with Pilbara native title holders, including the Yindjibarndi People. Comments from the Chairman saying ‘that is not a community I’m going to empower with tens of millions of your cash’ demonstrate that the company and Board have a long way to go in understanding Aboriginal values, and the impacts of the company’s commercial activities on the land and heritage of Traditional Owners affected by its operations.”