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Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation strikes deal for "equal footing in future decision-making" over Murujuga country

Giovanni Torre -

Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation has "defined a new approach" to agreement-making in Australia, following the signing Thursday of a Statement of Intent by the Corporation, the federal, state and local governments, and major industry.

The Statement of Intent demonstrates that the signatories – including the Federal Environment Minister, Premier of Western Australia, State ministers and CEOs at the City of Karratha, Rio Tinto, Woodside, Yara Pilbara, Perdaman and Horizon Power – are willing to form a Heads of Agreement that will place MAC "on an equal footing in future decision-making about land use on Murujuga country".

The agreement will replace existing Commonwealth Conservation Agreements previously formed between the federal government and industry, and will provide a framework that will guide how all parties engage with MAC in matters relating to Murujuga country.

In turn, this will support the nomination - led by MAC - for World Heritage Listing of the Murujuga Cultural Landscape, by demonstrating co-existence and co-management of Murujuga by MAC with government and industry.

MAC described the signing of the Statement of Intent as "a significant milestone" in a strategic agreement making project that MAC has been progressing since 2023 with Commonwealth and WA government support.

MAC Chairperson Peter Hicks said the signing was "a proud moment for Ngarda Ngarli, because – even though our connection to Murujuga country has persisted more than 50,0000 years – the legal framework has not previously included the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Murujuga as decision-makers".

"The signing of the Statement of Intent is a step towards forming a Heads of Agreement that will ensure MAC, as the representative body for Murujuga Traditional Owners and Custodians, and the cultural authority for the Murujuga Cultural Landscape, is on an equal footing in future

decision-making – instead of us needing to push to be recognised each time," he said.

"As far as we know, this is the first time in Australia that government and industry have agreed to work towards a Heads of Agreement such as this. It's therefore an important moment for First Nations peoples around the country."

MAC chief executive Kim Wood said the signing arose from "a long campaign by MAC to have its cultural authority valued and a willingness from government and industry to move towards a modern framework that recognises Traditional Owners' and Custodians' self-determination and equal status in decision-making".

"MAC is looking forward to working with the signatories to form a Heads of Agreement, following processes aligned with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the principle of free, prior and informed consent," he said.

"This new and innovative agreement-making process will allow the co-existence of this spectacular and unique cultural landscape with industry, while creating certainty and stability – it's a truly great step forward for Murujuga country and its Custodians."

Dr Tony Buti, MAC Chair Peter Hicks, and Premier Roger Cook, among others, during the signing. Image: Eloise Dortch (MAC).

WA's Aboriginal Affairs Minister Tony Buti said Murujuga has "immeasurable cultural, spiritual, and archaeological significance to Aboriginal people who have looked after this area for more than 50,000 years".

"The WA government looks forward to working with the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation and industry stakeholders on the Strategic Head Agreement and to further advance the application for World Heritage status," he said.

WA Premier Roger Cook said "only by working with Traditional Owners can we ensure that culture is protected, and can co-exist with industry in the area".

The state's Environment Minister, Reece Whitby, said that by signing this Statement of Intent, the WA government had committed to "the principles of environmental sustainability, protection of cultural heritage and the recognition of Aboriginal knowledge".

The Murujuga Cultural Landscape is a 100,000ha area covering the Dampier Archipelago, Burrup Peninsula and surrounding sea country that is nominated for World Heritage Listing.

Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation represents Members from five Traditional Owner and Custodial groups for Murujuga: the Yaburara, Ngarluma, Mardudhunera, Yindjibarndi and Wong-Goo-Tt-Oo peoples. The collective term for these five peoples is Ngarda-Ngarli.

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