Global mining titans BHP and Rio Tinto on Thursday backed a high-profile campaign to give indigenous Australians a constitutionally guaranteed voice in white-dominated politics.
In a joint statement, the firms endorsed what would be a historic change in Australia’s constitution, offering aboriginal groups a formal role in the running the country.
‘It would empower Indigenous Australians,’ said BHP CEO Andrew Mackenzie said.
‘It would make sure indigenous people have a say on the legislation, policy and programs that shape Indigenous lives, families and communities.’
The endorsement sees two of Australia’s largest companies – together worth more than $100 billion – butt heads with the conservative government.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said the proposals, set out in a 2017 declaration, would create an unworkable ‘third chamber’ of parliament.
The opposition Labor Party has promised a referendum on the issue if it wins power in the May election.
Corporate support for the plan comes after decades of controversy between mining, oil and gas companies which form the backbone of the Australian economy and aboriginal landowners who have lived on the continent for at least 60,000 years.
There have been frequent disputes between Australia’s largest firms and traditional landowners over compensation, damage to sacred sites and titling. Many cases end up in court.
Only five members of the Australian parliament are aboriginal, out of 150.
The aboriginal population is around 600,000, or just under three percent of Australia’s 24 million people.