After the Minerals Council of Australia adopted new guidelines at the beginning of the month, Australian mining companies will now have to follow stricter rules around project impacts on First Nations communities and the environment.
Adopting the Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) initiative first started by the Mining Association of Canada in 2004, the initiative requires companies to regularly assess their relationships with Traditional Owners, ecological impacts and labour practices.
The initiative sets a range of indicators and tools to assist companies in responsibly managing their environmental and social governance (ESG), including:
- Communities and people – First Nations community relationships, safety and health, crisis management, communication planning
- Environmental stewardship – biodiversity conservation management, water stewardship, tailings management
- Climate change – site-level targets and management.
The decision to adopt the TSM framework comes almost a year after Rio Tinto’s destruction of the 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge caves sacred to the Puutu Kunti Kuruma Pinikura people, which obliterated Rio Tinto’s relationships with Traditional Owners globally.
The incident triggered a national inquiry into mining companies’ dealings with Traditional Owners and cultural heritage, revealing some damning findings along the way.
In a recent hearing, the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority told the inquiry two federal laws were failing Traditional Owners and the protection of environment and cultural heritage: the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 (Cth) and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth).
“Our places, our sites, our history deserve better, and we demand strong reforms from this inquiry.”
“When strong reforms are enacted and our places are protected, all Australians will benefit,” said Authority Chair Bobby Nunggumajbar.
Minerals Council of Australia CEO Tania Constable said the introduction of TSM as an expectation of Minerals Council membership will give First Nations industry partners extra assurance and visibility on companies’ performance across a range of social and environmental indicators.
“Australian mining is a global leader in sustainability performance, and it’s time to take another step forward to enhance community, investor and customer trust and confidence in the industry,” Constable said.
Mining Association of Canada CEO Pierre Gratton said he was pleased Australia had chosen TSM as “the vehicle to demonstrate environmental and social performance in its mining sector”.
“We are very proud of TSM’s increasingly global reach and power to improve sustainability through measuring site-level performance.”
While the Minerals Council takes a step toward stronger relationships with Traditional Owners, the absence of government intervention and legislative reform remains evident.
It was recently revealed in a New South Wales Budget Estimates hearing that 100 per cent of the Aboriginal Heritage Impact Permits submitted in the past year had been approved, and that since 2016, over 400 applications to impact Aboriginal heritage sites had been approved by the State Government.
In Western Australia, the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (WA) is yet to be reformed, with over 60 per cent of stakeholders unhappy with the suggested reform, the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill 2020 (WA).
By Hannah Cross