Some top mining companies are flouting international human rights conventions when negotiating with Indigenous Australians over land use, a study has found.
Companies, including Origin Energy and Glencore, have failed to adequately obtain consent from traditional owners for some projects, RMIT University researchers say.
They’re able to do so because native title and land rights laws don’t require companies to gain free, prior and informed consent from traditional landowners, RMIT Business and Human Rights Centre director Shelley Marshall says.
“Our research reveals a legal framework and corporate behaviour that refuses to acknowledge lack of consent,” she said.
The companies disagree.
The report calls for Origin Energy to cease fracking in the Northern Territory’s Beetaloo Basin and engage with traditional owners over whether there is consent for the work under its mining leases.
Bravus Mining and Resources – formally Adani Mining – should stop work at its Galilee Mine site in Queensland, Abbot Point port and railway until traditional owners give consent, the recommendations say.
The report also calls on Glencore to establish and work with an independent self-determining community group – comprised of the four traditional owner clans affected by the McArthur River Mine in the NT – to gain consent.
Prof Marshall said current native title laws didn’t require robust processes to ensure consent before companies pushed ahead with projects.
“The fact that companies can operate within Australian law while failing to respect and uphold their international human rights obligations underlines an urgent need for reform,” she said.
“These laws exacerbate the power imbalance between traditional owners and mining companies.”
Prof Marshall said federal and state governments should amend native title and land rights legislation, and any change should include mandatory human rights due diligence assessments.
Key international human rights instruments – including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination – hadn’t been incorporated into Australian law and must be, she said.
Researchers also called on the Queensland government to hold an independent inquiry into the process used to obtain a land use agreement and extinguish native title in the Galilee Basin for Bravus’ Carmichael Mine.
An Origin spokesman said the company worked with the Northern Land Council and the processes followed were guided by the principles of free, prior and informed consent.
“Traditional owners who are the native title holders for the areas where we undertake exploration activity have agreed to and support our work in the Beetaloo, including fracking,” he said.
A Bravus spokeswoman said RMIT’s report contained inaccurate information about the company’s interaction with traditional owners and it strongly rejected the portrayal of events.
Prof Marshall said Bravus previously contacted RMIT’s chancellor and requested the study be terminated but this was declined.
A Glencore spokesman said the company was disappointed by RMIT’s report and the university did not genuinely consult.
“We have openly addressed operational challenges at (McArthur River Mine) and have made significant progress on many of the issues raised,” he said.
“The final report lacks balance, rigour and contains a number of inaccuracies and misinformation.”