Rio Tinto vows to work with Aboriginal Australians following explosion

The Pilbara landscape Image: Rio Tinto

Rio Tinto chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques has apologised for the destruction of Juukan Gorge, an ancient Aboriginal site.

Jacques said the company would cooperate with the Northern Australia inquiry and support Western Australia’s reform of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972, which would be led by Western Australia’s Indigenous Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt.

It would also engage with Traditional Owner groups and governments relating to cultural heritage approvals and processes.

Rio Tinto received ministerial consent for the blast in 2013. The detonation was aimed at expanding the proposed Brockman 4 iron ore mine.

This devastated the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) People, which Reconciliation Australia stated to be robbing them of a valuable cultural heritage site.

“We have met with Rio Tinto to convey our extreme concern over recent events, and while not discounting their many positive outcomes and important work to advance reconciliation, Reconciliation Australia has revoked its endorsement of Rio Tinto as an Elevate RAP (Reconciliation Action Plan) organisation and suspended the company from the RAP program,” the non-profit organisation stated.

Review of the suspension will be dependent on how Rio Tinto responds to the PKKP People.

The company is also obliged to provide a full, public release of a review into the actions that led to Juukan Gorge’s destruction.

“We are very sorry for the distress we have caused the PKKP in relation to Juukan Gorge and our first priority remains rebuilding trust with the PKKP,” Jacques said.

“Rio Tinto has a long history of working in partnership and creating shared value with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities around our operations and across Australia more broadly.

“We remain absolutely committed to continuing to do so.”

The Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia’s (CME) chief executive Paul Everingham said that the regulation of cultural heritage was a state responsibility, and therefore any shortfalls in existing state legislation must be addressed by state-based reform.

“Efforts must be directed to this important Western Australian State reform and not diluted by a far-removed inquiry,” he said.

Reform of the Aboriginal Heritage Act has been under way for two years. The CME is confident that a bill will be introduced into parliament this year.

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