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Social licence a watchdog for heritage

Tom Zaunmayr -

Corporate social responsibility is an intangible concept; it is a value, idea or concept.

It has evolved from the idea of businesses or businesspeople "doing the right thing" by the community in which they operate and instead, has been referred to in today's business world as a triple bottom line which creates the business' corporate social licence to operate.

A business' corporate and social responsibility affects the perceptions of the public and other stakeholders. Therefore, it affects the corporation's reputation and corporate image. Along with the public's view of the business' social licence to operate.

Corporate social responsibility or social licence to operate has further evolved since the Juukan cave explosions.

The investment community expresses a level of concern and the business they invest in has to provide assurances. These businesses, those which have the investment of their community, have to maintain a level of transparency. They have to ensure they're leaving the regions where they operate better off.

In today's modern context, with the advantage of social media, the resources sector has to be much more careful â€" there is little you can getaway with.

Corporate social responsibility branding has become more than marketing. It creates a perception of value, it's something that needs to be independently verified and needs the right balance between business interests and the interests of community as a whole.

Clearly, and with the added value of hindsight, Rio Tinto blowing up an Aboriginal heritage site dating back to the ice age is clearly not acceptable to Australia's First People, the investment community, or the Australian and international community.

This behaviour in the resources sector should never have been acceptable in any context. We would never accept the destruction of priceless history records in any situation.

But what about the role the WA Government, and the government staff members, who enabled industry to continue with acts of destruction without fear of prosecution?

After all, if there is no penalty for destroying Aboriginal sites of national and international value, why would industry change its behaviour?

The social licence operates as a new watchdog from the investment community. This has far greater consequence than prosecutions under the Aboriginal Heritage Act.

If the investment community puts conditions on their investment that prevents the unjust treatment of First Nations people, we would see a new level of equity and justice. If the investment community held the board and senior management accountable â€" leadership would start at the top.

And as it seems, in this case, industry should have no fear about the investment community holding them accountable, because companies that operate on First Peoples land say they operate with the consent of First Nations people.

Government is not at arm's length from decisions of heritage protection. Government is reliant on the income for the State's budget.

The proof of this will be if, and when, the McGowan Government uses its power in the State Parliament and pushes through legislation that does empower proper protection of First Nations heritage and places Aboriginal people at the centre of decision-making regarding their own heritage â€" which is also Australia's history and heritage.

But one doesn't wait with bated breath.

The McGowan Government have consistently shown their disregard for First Nations rights, First Nations heritage and First Nations futures. And with their heritage legislation instilled, the destruction of First Nations culture will continue, to form another permanent stain on an already littered human rights record.

By Wayne Bergmann

Wayne Bergmann is the Executive Chairperson of the National Indigenous Times


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