Rio Tinto chief admits operational gain from Juukan Gorge blast

Traditional Owners

The Pilbara landscape Image: Rio Tinto.

Rio Tinto chief executive Jean-Sebastian Jacques has revealed that the destruction of the ancient Juukan Gorge rock shelters in Western Australia led to the production of higher-grade ore.

The parliamentary inquiry on Friday revealed that in 2012 and 2013, three of the four pit options considered in the Juukan Gorge area avoided the shelters “to varying distances”.

Rio Tinto did not inform the traditional land owners, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura Aboriginal Corporation that it had considered all four options.

“We are determined to learn the lessons from what happened at Juukan Gorge, to restore a relationship of trust with the PKKP  and to re-build Rio Tinto’s reputation for cultural heritage management,” Jacques said.

Rio Tinto has apologised to the PKKP and has ensured that the destruction of a heritage site “never occurs again”.

From 2003 to 2006, negations with the PKKP and Rio Tinto resulted in the participation agreement that was signed in 2011 involving 16 areas of high cultural heritage significance that were identified by the PKKP, and under the agreement these would have “additional protections”.

However, the Juukan sites were not included on the list, according to Rio Tinto.

“In these negotiations, the PKKP were represented by lawyers and advised by relevant experts,” Rio Tinto stated.

“Through those negotiations and under the terms of these agreements, Rio Tinto believes that, in exchange for financial and non-financial benefits, it obtained the ‘Free Prior and Informed Consent’ of the PKKP to conduct mining operations on PKKP land at Brockman 4, which included the land on which the Juukan rock shelters were located.”

Rio Tinto has a separate board-led review under way to respond to what has occurred, aimed at assessing the adequacy of its internal cultural heritage management systems, processes and governance.

The company confirmed that the destruction of the Juukan rock shelters should have never occurred.

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