MEDIA RELEASE: Rio Tinto’s destruction of ancient aboriginal site is a wake-up call for overdue reform

3 June 2020

‘The destruction by Rio Tinto of the 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge rock shelters in May is shocking and inexcusable.’ Said Transparency International Australia CEO, Serena Lillywhite.

‘The rightful public outcry at the destruction of this ancient site should be a wake-up call for governments and industry to listen to calls for reform from indigenous groups and the broader community.’ Said Hannah Clua-Saunders, TIA’s National Mining Project Coordinator.

‘Rio Tinto has always prided itself on its engagement with indigenous peoples, but now needs to answer the question of how they saw fit to destroy this important Aboriginal site.’ Said Serena Lillywhite.

‘We welcome Rio Tinto’s review into their heritage protection process, but it must be accompanied by meaningful improvements that allow for traditional owners to be heard and that ensure the protection of sacred sites.

‘The destruction of this ancient site shows a shocking gap between societal expectations and the law.

‘There is clearly an urgent need to review Western Australia’s Aboriginal heritage protection laws, particularly in the context of mining approvals so that sacred sites are better protected.

‘Transparency International Australia has long called for a more transparent and accountable process for approving mining projects in Western Australia. Our research found a number of critical corruption risks – notably the lack of transparency and accountability in State Agreements and Native Title Agreements, poor representation of Native Title parties in those negotiations, and more broadly – risks of undue influence and policy capture. These create a risk that mining and related infrastructure projects are awarded for industry benefit and without adequately considering the impacts on the community and the environment.

‘In addition to strengthening public policy, companies need to act more responsibly. Companies like Rio Tinto operate in a wide variety of global jurisdictions with different requirements. They clearly need to strengthen their own internal standards to ensure they act with integrity, always.’

Photo credit: Dominik Vanyi via Unsplash.