Mining, oil and gas companies are increasingly designing human rights policies that will control the effects of their projects on indigenous communities, according to a native title lawyer.
McCullough Robertson Lawyers’ Charles Gregory spoke at the National Native Title Conference in Alice Springs this week, which had 700 people present.
He said human rights policies in companies are still not commonplace but are on the rise, especially in multinational companies, the ABC reported.
“In Australia, we have a very weak human rights background and we don’t talk about human rights a lot,” he said.
“We don’t have a human rights act, or have a constitution that recognises human rights.”
“However, because of the impact it’s had on Europe, America and South America, human rights have come to be incorporated into mining company policies, setting out the rights of Indigenous people and specifically the responsibility of companies when they are developing projects on lands owned by Indigenous people.”
The policies are voluntary and companies usually incorporate them in countries that have no laws highlighting how mining companies should collaborate with the Indigenous community.
“For example, for a client working in South Africa, a significant majority of its workforce has HIV or AIDS,” he said.
“It was clear by doing a human rights assessment under its own internal policies that it needed to ensure that its staff had access to the necessary health services.
“They developed particular health care policies, and that was directly related to their human rights policies.”
As more multinational companies introduce human rights policies overseas, Gregory hopes Australia follows suit as well.
He particularly wants to see Queensland and Western Australia adopt these policies as Indigenous people have no veto power over projects.
Native title claimants recently looked to ban mining in Northern NSW as they were concerned the projects could damage sacred sites.
The Gomeroi people sought legal advice to prevent all mining and development on their ancestral lands.
More than 400 Native Title claimants met to dicuss all options to prevent ministerial decisions that would approve mining in their area.