Pilbara Aboriginal groups have welcomed the support of mining giants Rio Tinto and BHP in establishing an indigenous voice to Federal Parliament.
Last Thursday the miners, which are both major employers of indigenous people in the Pilbara, released a joint statement supporting the Uluru Statement from the Heart, a national statement on constitutional recognition for indigenous people that was developed out of the First Nations National Constitutional Convention in May 2017.
The statement calls to enshrine a First Nations Voice, or indigenous advisory body, in the Australian Constitution and creating a commission to oversee the formation of agreements between governments and indigenous people.
Linda Dridi, co-chair of Pilbara Aboriginal Voice, a group that represents the different indigenous language groups of the Pilbara, said the miners’ support for the Uluru Statement was a positive step and one she hoped would deliver real outcomes.
“It is encouraging to have members of industry declare their support for the recognition of First Nations people in the Australian Constitution, as well as the establishment of a voice to Parliament,” she said.
“At a regional level, I feel Pilbara Aboriginal people will be very interested to see how this commitment to truth-telling will translate into tangible and practical outcomes being implemented that will benefit those communities directly impacted by mining activity.”
Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Simon Hawkins said the corporation supported the establishment of a voice to Parliament, as proposed in the statement, and was pleased with Rio’s and BHP’s support for the plan.
“It may certainly create a more direct influence on policies affecting indigenous people, better protecting their rights and interests and strengthening their voice in the broader community,” he said.
“YMAC is hopeful that Rio Tinto and BHP’s commitment to truth-telling and to adding their considerable influence in our community to the call for national action on constitutional recognition will contribute significantly to raising awareness amongst all Australians on this important issue.”
Lorraine Injie, executive director of IBN, said the companies’ support for a national indigenous voice was “much appreciated and most welcome”.
BHP chief executive Andrew Mackenzie said implementing the statement could be a milestone for Aboriginal advancement.
“A First Nations voice to Parliament is a meaningful step towards reconciliation,” he said.
“It would empower indigenous Australians and it would make sure indigenous people have a say on the legislation, policy and programs that shape indigenous lives, families and communities.”
Rio Tinto managing director for Australia Joanne Farrell said the company was proud to support the initiative. “Enshrining the First Nations’ voice in the Constitution is important to ensure continued participation in decisions about indigenous rights and interests,” she said.