Engaging with traditional owners

This section provides high-level information to investors on engaging and partnering effectively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, organisations and communities across northern Australia.

This information is intended to assist investors, project proponents and other stakeholders to understand culturally responsive engagement approaches with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are diverse and have different beliefs, customs, traditions, social structures and cultural practices. As such, investors’ should tailor their approach to the community (or nation) with which they would like to engage or partner.

What does ‘culturally responsive engagement’ mean?

  • Treat Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with respect and dignity
  • Recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' unique relationship to the land, sea and waterways
  • Ensure engagement practices and approaches are culturally sensitive, respectful and flexible
  • Ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are informed and receive timely responses about potential, existing and future negotiations and engagement processes; and the right to be actively engaged in decision-making
  • Ensure engagement practices empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to make informed decisions about all options available to them
  • Maintain respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and community privacy and confidentiality by all stakeholders involved in collecting and storing information
  • Provide consistent advice and detailed information to traditional owners about engagement and negotiation processes, and the right to have a chosen representative and/or advocate at all meetings and negotiations.

Useful guides for investors

In 2016 Rio Tinto published Why agreements matter , a how-to guide for industry on agreement making.

Representatives from BHP and other Australian mining companies were closely involved in the development of the International Council on Mining and Metals’ 2015 Indigenous Peoples and mining good practice guide .

The mining industry also worked with the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science to update its Working with Indigenous Communities: Leading Practice Sustainable Development Program for the Mining Industry publication in 2016.

The Australian Government’s central piece of environmental legislation, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), recognises that Indigenous peoples have an important role in the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of Australia’s biodiversity and Indigenous heritage.

The Department of the Environment and Energy’s Engage Early – Guidance for proponents on best practice Indigenous engagement for environmental assessments under the EPBC Act aims to improve how proponents engage and consult Indigenous peoples during the environmental assessment process under the EPBC Act.

The Engage Early guidelines should be read in conjunction with Ask First: A guide to respecting Indigenous heritage places and values published by the Australian Heritage Commission (now the Australian Heritage Council ).