The Australian minerals industry is acting to safeguard the integrity of payments to Indigenous communities in the wake of growing evidence that the benefits of land access agreements aren’t reaching the people for whom they’re meant.

The MCA will ask Government to urgently amend the Native Title Act to introduce consumer protection provisions to clarify the fiduciary responsibilities of native title applicants and their agents; to require funds managers to meet robust governance rules; and to ensure funds are allocated lawfully, fairly and in line with expectation of traditional owners and Indigenous communities.

As an interim measure until Parliament acts, the MCA is encouraging exploration and mining companies negotiating agreements with Indigenous communities to:

  • ensure the agreements clearly articulate the agreed benefits;
  • ensure those benefits are paid to a funds manager with governance rules strong enough to guarantee that benefits are directed in line with the wishes of traditional owners;
  • ensure that the funds manager has the knowledge and capacity to understand and fulfil its obligations; and,
  • if unable to confirm these requirements, instead pay funds to a reputable third party organisation such as the public trustee until an appropriate funds manager can be established.

These measures are practical steps in the endeavor to protect the integrity of payments and fulfill the commitments Australian minerals companies make to Indigenous communities.

The industry’s action follows consultation with the National Native Title Council and senior Indigenous leaders in the wake of a recent report by Treasury’s Native Title and Traditional Owner Benefits and Governance Working Group which expressed “significant concern” about the adequacy of current governance arrangements. The Group recommended “urgent steps” to address real and potential risks for misappropriation of funds.

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