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The Top End's heritage protection laws to come under scrutiny as the work of the 'Juukan Inquiry' continues.
Sarah Collard

1 Mar 2021 - 3:52 PM  UPDATED 1 Mar 2021 - 3:52 PM

The Northern Territory's heritage protection laws to come under scrutiny as the work of the 'Juukan Inquiry' continues. 

The hearings will take place by teleconference on Tuesday and will be looking at the Top End's cultural protection laws, after concerns were raised by Traditional Owners about the expansion of the Gencore McArthur River mine. 

The Central Land Council (CLC), the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority, and the International Council for Monuments and Sites will be among the groups giving evidence.

In it's submission, the Central Land Council urged state and territory governments as well as the Commonwealth to defer any decision that could potentially damage First Nations sites until relevant legislation can provide adequate protection. 

The CLC said laws protecting Indigenous cultural practice must be based on best principles, as outlined by international standards. 

"Any legislative reform to guarantee the protection of culturally and historically significant sites must be consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples." the submission stated. 

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The progession of the inquiry comes after Labor senator, Patrick Dodson, on Friday called for a royal commission into mining practices due to increasing fears that significant and sacred sites are at risk due to ongoing mining activity across the continent. 

Recently, BHP reported damage to a registered heritage site in the Pilbara, while Fortescue Metals Group is under investigation for a potential breach of heritage laws at their mine site, near Tom Price.

Mr Dodson told the ABC's RN Drive program that reforms are urgently needed in WA's mineral rich regions. 

"It's a very ancient part of Australia which has got significance for humanity as a whole," Mr Dodson told the program on Friday. 

Mr Dodson said a royal commission into mining practices was needed to fully understand the competing legislations, mining protections, and the extent to which Indigenous people are empowered through the legislation. 

"You have the  capacity to destroy all this without any redress -  we have to seriously take stock as a nation as to whether Indigenous heritage counts for anything in our nation or not," Mr Dodson said. 

"A royal commission has to look at the broader issues than  what we are doing  as a  parliamentary committee... It's a serious issue for the people's whose rights are being affected but for us as a  nation as well."

Mr Dodson will be video conferencing into the inquiry for the continuing investigation into mining giant Rio Tinto’s destruction of Juukan Gorge last April.

Kimberley Land Council CEO Brian Wilkinson said heritage laws are failing First Nations people nationwide.

"It needs one of those intense examinations of only a royal commission with powers can provide," the Yawuru man told NITV News.

"The laws that are made nationally and at the state level are obviously not working," said Mr Wilkinson.

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