Just 12% of shareholders support indigenous consent proposal at Australian energy giant Origin

Low support for proposal despite concerns around indigenous protection in the wake of destruction of aboriginal sites by Rio Tinto

Just 12% of shareholders have supported a proposal calling on Australia’s largest energy firm to disclose more information on its consent arrangement with indigneous communities. 

The resolution, put forward by the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) today, asks Origin Energy to be more transparent regarding the communities affected by its fracking activity in the Beetaloo Basin, located in the Northern Territory of Australia. 

Support for the proposal doubled from last year, but Brynn O’Brien, Executive Director at ACCR, pointed out that the “vast majority of investors continue to vote down measures to improve transparency on the issue of consent of Traditional Owners in the Beetaloo Basin”.

“Investors can no longer rely on regulatory regimes in place in Australia to protect the interests of Traditional Owners – as the Juukan Caves blasting clearly demonstrates – and further due diligence should always be applied in such relationships”, she added.

Earlier this year, Anglo-Australian miner Rio Tinto was widely condemned for the destruction of the Juukan Caves, a 46,000-year-old Aboriginal heritage site in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The backlash ultimately resulted in its CEO Jean-Sébastien Jacques stepping down in September. 

Last week, Rio Tinto’s rival BHP avoided a proposal calling for it to suspend any activities which “would disturb, destroy or desecrate” cultural heritage sites in Australia, following “eleventh hour” negotiations by its chairman and Aboriginal leaders. 

The withdrawal of that proposal came in the same week that the governing body of Australian rules football, AFL cut ties with Rio Tinto over the Juukan Caves incident – a move some commentators says loses the miner its "social licence" to operate. 

California public pension giant CalPERS and the New York City pension system were among the investors to vote against the indigenous consent proposal at Origin. Blackrock, also opposed the resolution, pointing out that “the major opponents of the project do not have rights over the land operated by Origin. Rather, the host traditional owners whose land Origin operates on have publicly stated their support for the project.”

The Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan Board, however, did support it, stating that it is “generally supportive of companies providing supplementary disclosure on material issues including human and indigenous peoples' rights”. 

The ACCR’s other proposal at Origin Energy, calling on it to review the advocacy of its industry associations and their lobbying during COVID-19, fared much better, receiving 25% support. A similar lobbying proposal filed at BHP was supported by 20% of shareholders last week.