10 May 2023

WCCCA celebrates historic milestone

| Matt Nicholls
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It was largely a joyous occasion filled with laughter and spirited traditional dancing, although some tears flowed as Elders reflected on those who had passed before them – those who had fought for the cause.

The Western Cape Communities Co-Existence Agreement was a landmark deal for Cape York that signalled Rio Tinto’s commitment to improve the lives of Traditional Owners from the 11 clan groups that occupied the mining lease.

In response to the Native Title law, Rio Tinto developed a policy of active recognition and formal engagement with Traditional Owners in the areas of its operations.

From a legal perspective, the mining company did not require an agreement.

After signing a Memorandum of Understanding in 1995, it took six years of negotiating between Rio Tinto and the 11 Traditional Owner groups to come to an agreement.

The WCCCA was finally signed on March 14, 2001.

It almost didn’t happen that day, as NPARC councillor Eric Cottis said last week: “We flew down from New Mapoon and forgot to bring the seal with us for the signing. Luckily I was able to phone someone from the airport and it was brought down on another plane coming to Weipa.”

The WCCCA agreement was one of the first Indigenous Land Use agreements between a mining company and Traditional Owners in Australia and set a precedent for Rio Tinto and the industry.

Some of the key focus areas of the agreement include employment, training, cultural heritage and site protection, business development and ongoing cultural awareness for all employees and contractors.

Western Cape Communities Trust chairperson Marie Pitt said the WCCCA agreement had been a game changer for Traditional Owners in the region and paid tribute to all those who worked hard to make it happen.

“There are many who are no longer with us but they will never be forgotten,” she said.

“We still have work to do to get where we want to be, but we will get there.”

Ms Pitt also acknowledged all the other chairs of the Trust who had stood in her shoes before and challenged the next generation to become leaders of their people.

Rio Tinto Aluminium Pacific managing director Daniel van der Westhuizen said: “We are honoured to commemorate 20 years since the WCCCA was signed, and would like to acknowledge and show appreciation for the work that all parties have contributed to make the agreement a success.

“The agreement represented a new beginning for our relationships with all Western Cape communities, and a mutual commitment between our company and the communities to work together towards a better future.

“It is also an opportunity to reflect on and learn from the past.

“This means building relationships that are characterised by mutual respect, active partnership and a joint commitment to realise long-term benefits for all Traditional Owners across the Western Cape.

“The agreement underscores the importance of working together in genuine partnership for mutual value and benefit to the business and communities alike.”

The event was also used as the official opening of the Achimbun Administration Centre that overlooks the Embley River.

The facility was constructed as the administration hub for the WCCCA and has purpose-built meeting rooms to accommodate the large number of Traditional Owner representatives in one place.

The official opening was slated for last year but had to be postponed due to COVID-19.

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