The mining industry has a chequered history when it comes to relations with traditional owners in WA, one of the world’s richest resources jurisdictions.

Nowhere has that come to light more starkly than last year’s Juukan Gorge debacle, when Rio Tinto knowingly blew up 46,000 year old rock caves containing irreplaceable cultural artefacts.

One of the facts of that international embarrassment is that Rio were allowed to conduct the blast because they had a Section 18 approval under current WA Aboriginal heritage laws.

That is a near 50 year old act the McGowan Government has been trying to scrap and replace since it came to power in 2017.

A new bill was introduced today which the WA Government says “in line with Native Title laws”, focuses on agreement making with Traditional Owners so Aboriginal people can negotiate outcomes for projects and opportunities on their lands, and abolishes the Section 18 process.

“The Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill 2021 has been three years in the making to reform 50-year-old legislation, align with Commonwealth Native Title laws and most importantly, give Aboriginal people the right to make decisions on matters impacting their cultural heritage,” Aboriginal Affairs Minister Stephen Dawson said.

“These laws build on the many successful examples of collaboration between Aboriginal people and industry and empower Traditional Owners to negotiate agreements that can deliver broad outcomes and benefits for their communities.”

However, controversy has arisen on the release of the bill this morning, because the WA Aboriginal Affairs Minister will have the final say on the approval or otherwise Aboriginal cultural management plan where traditional owners and companies cannot come to an agreement.

Parties will only be able to appeal to a decision through the court system.

The release of the bill today has drawn criticism from many traditional owner groups and Indigenous people, as well as support from some.

Kimberley Land Council CEO Tyronne Garstone said the government had grown too close to industry and become too dependent on royalties to be objective.

“We have repeatedly called on the McGowan Government to pause this Bill and make the changes required to ensure Aboriginal heritage is protected. By ignoring our concerns the McGowan Government has treated Aboriginal people beneath contempt,” he said in a statement today.

“Fundamentally, this Bill will not protect Aboriginal cultural heritage and will continue a pattern of systematic structural racial discrimination against Aboriginal people.”


CME supportive of bill

WA’s Nationals led opposition has also accused the Labor Government of attempting to rush the bill, which could have big implications for major mining developments, through parliament.

Juukan Gorge wasn’t just a national shame from a moral perspective, it was also spectacularly bad for Rio’s iron ore business.

It caused an investor revolt, resulted in the resignation of three senior executives including CEO Jean Sebastien Jacques, and saw Rio cut millions of tonnes of iron ore production after reviewing its mine plans in light of its heritage failures.

The Chamber of Minerals and Energy WA, a lobby group for big miners, welcomed the bill, saying it was something the sector could “work with”.

“That said, this new framework will require significant adjustment from all stakeholders. Change of this scale is complex, and the challenge ahead to deliver on the potential set out in the Bill should not be underestimated,” CEO Paul Everingham said.

“CME and its member companies will spend some time reviewing this legislation in its entirety.

“We acknowledge that our industry hasn’t always got things right, at times with deeply regrettable consequences. Our commitment remains to invest in long-term relationships for mutual benefit through agreement-making and ongoing dialogue which responds to the priorities of local Indigenous people.”


Bellevue stocks up on Northern Star expertise

Bellevue Gold (ASX:BGL) is on the path to development at its namesake gold mine in the northern Goldfields.

It has shuffled the decks ahead of the development of the proposed high grade underground development, where first production is expected in mid-2023.

Two former Northern Star (ASX:NST) executives are on their way into the hopeful mid-tier gold miner, which has a market cap of around $950 million.

Former chief development officer Darren Stralow will take the reins as the chief executive officer at Bellevue ahead of its flagship mine’s development, while Bill Stirling, formerly general manager of the Jundee, Kalgoorlie operations and Bronzewing has been named general manager.

Bellevue MD Steve Parsons will remain in his role while its current COO Craig Jones will exit the company after a period consulting in the transition.

The movements bring more Northern Star flavour to Bellevue.

Former NST boss Bill Beament has signalled his intention to bid on the underground mining contract at the project, where Bellevue is aiming to use a large renewable energy footprint to reduce emissions from the mine, through his new underground mining services DEVELOP (ASX:DVP).

The Bellevue mine, which is fully funded and will cost $252 million to build, is slated as a 200,000ozpa producer over its first five years at AISC of $922/oz.


Bellevue Gold share price today: