BHP views its relationship with Traditional Owners as partnerships based on mutual respect and trust. 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.
We have listened to Indigenous leaders from around our operations, and at a state and national level. We have sought to clarify our commitment and approach to cultural heritage management and take on the learnings that can strengthen our approach.
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.
Our agreements vary across Australia but overall set out numerous aspects of the relationships we have with Traditional Owners. Relationships are fundamental and should reflect the deep respect that BHP holds for Traditional Owners and their cultural heritage. We seek to raise awareness of the importance placed on management of cultural heritage matters by BHP and Traditional Owners and build on our existing processes and approach. In particular:
- Communications in relation to cultural heritage:
Following recent events, some Traditional Owners have expressed views that they feel some elements of agreements impact on their freedom to express opinions about cultural heritage relating to their country. This is not BHP’s intention.
All people have the right to speak freely and publicly on matters relating to their culture and their cultural heritage including any concerns they have about impacts to cultural heritage.
BHP has confirmed to Traditional Owners that it does not regard any term of its agreements with them as preventing them from making public statements about cultural heritage concerns. If any provision in BHP’s Agreements can be regarded as having this effect, then BHP will not enforce that clause.
BHP will not enforce any clause that would require Traditional Owners to communicate through BHP when providing comments or opinions to government decision-makers in respect of cultural heritage matters.
- New information:
BHP has strong existing internal processes in place to ensure that if new information arises that changes the heritage significance of a site, 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.
We recognise that the understanding and management of cultural heritage must be a continuous process. Consistent with this intent, BHP confirmed with Traditional Owners, that if BHP becomes aware of new information that materially changes the significance of a heritage site, it will not undertake any activity that would disturb that site without agreement with the Traditional Owners.
- Review processes:
Under BHP’s agreements, there is a requirement for periodic reviews of the terms of the agreements and their operation. These reviews are an important opportunity to ensure that the terms of agreements continue to meet best practice. BHP and Traditional Owners are engaged in a number of these reviews currently.
- Existing Section 18 approvals:
BHP holds a number of section 18 approvals granted by the Western Australia Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage, which permit impacts to specific cultural heritage sites. These do not include any of the exclusion zones called for by Traditional Owners. Consistent with the approach BHP is taking with its section 18 approvals at South Flank, (and with pre-existing practice), we have also confirmed with Traditional Owners where we hold other existing section 18 consents that we will not act on those consents without first undertaking further extensive consultation with those Traditional Owners.
We have also commenced a program of consultation with traditional owners to ensure we continue to meet their expectations in relation to the preservation and storage of artefacts.
These clarifications are consistent with BHP’s commitment to Free Prior Informed Consent set out in the BHP Indigenous Peoples Policy Statement and BHP Indigenous Peoples Strategy.