Businesses and investors including HESTA and Lendlease have launched an initiative that will focus on strengthening Australia's First People's heritage laws.
The First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance, the Global Compact Network Australia (GCNA), and the Responsible Investment Association Australasia (RIAA) have created the Dhawura Ngilan Business and Investor Initiative, which will also work to embed standards for the private sector to uphold the human rights of First Peoples.
The initiative is part of a continuing response from investors and business in the wake of the destruction of Juukan Gorge on the traditional lands of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (Binigura) peoples. This 2020 event marked a turning point in awareness of the value and importance of Country and cultural heritage.
"We wanted to make sure that whilst that particular incident wouldn't happen again, we could actually learn from it as active owners and figure out where our activities were best placed so that investors didn't face that risk anymore," said Mary Delahunty, head of impact at HESTA, which has joined the initiative. "The risk we found was not so much social license, which is sort of a nebulous concept, but rather the risk of doing business with native title holders that you haven't listened to."
Lendlease's participation in the initiative is linked to its reconciliation action plan (RAP), and is related to its business strategy, said Cath Brokenborough, executive lead, First Nations engagement, Lendlease, and chair of the Dhawura Ngilan Business and Investor Initiative.
"We've been working out how we can fulfil our responsibility and accountability to support First Nations people, to grow the reconciliation conversation in Australia, and the RAP talks about that," Brokenborough said. "As a developer, we've come the realisation about the impact we've had - we're changing the shape, the use and the form of the land, but also because of what we do, we have this remarkable and unique ability.
"That is a business opportunity - not only are we finding a way to support and protect and sustain what is there, but sustainability isn't just good enough in the current period - we've seen that the legislation isn't good enough, or else there wouldn't be this much damage to history and culture as what happened at Juukan Gorge."
RIAA is launching an industry-developed Investor Toolkit on Indigenous Peoples' Rights and Cultural Heritage Protection later this month, which will help investors navigate this issue and support best practice in protecting the incredible heritage of First Nations people, said Estelle Parker, RIAA's executive manager - programs.
"This is a landmark and unprecedented collaboration between First Nations peoples, secondly business themselves, represented by the GCNA members and thirdly investors, represented by RIAA," Parker said. "What happened at Juukan Gorge brought to light that First Nations communities need to be at the centre of these decisions about the lands that they are traditional owners of. From our perspectives, we are engaging with this alliance, making sure we are listening very closely and coming to the table alongside first nations representatives."
This initiative and the forthcoming toolkit will improve conscious thinking about heritage protection, said Rodney Carter, Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council and Group CEO of the Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation and Steering Committee member of the initiative.
"We understand that for cultural heritage, once they're damaged and destroyed, they're lost forever," Carter said.
"By creating a collective and a process, there's a greater ease around what we should be doing together. Whether it's the legislative or regulatory requirements in jurisdictions and what's on the ground, through those in the corporate world that are the leaders around industry and investment and other sorts of commercial activities, there will be a greater thoughtfulness and protection around protecting cultural heritage for future generations."
This initiative gives business and investor communities a positive and constructive way to contribute to the Dhawura Ngilan (Remembering Country) vision, which is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people working with all Australians to identify, protect, conserve and communicate the unique heritage of Australia for future generations.