A year on from the Juukan Gorge destruction, Aboriginal sacred sites remain unprotected
23 May 2021
The Western Australian government has refused to commit to a moratorium on approving the destruction of Aboriginal heritage sites, despite the recommendation of a federal inquiry which found that the laws are “unfit for purpose”.
WA’s new Aboriginal affairs minister, Stephen Dawson, said Aboriginal heritage laws would be introduced to parliament in the second half of 2021.
Until then, the current system – which allows land users such as mining companies to make what is called a section 18 application for permission to destroy or impact upon a registered Aboriginal heritage site – will continue to operate.
Rio Tinto has imposed a moratorium on all work within 10 sq km of Juukan Gorge and committed to working with and offering reparations to the traditional owners, the PKKP peoples, but only after its top global shareholders demanded action, it was slammed in media coverage, and three of its top executives and two board members – including the CEO and chairman – chose to stand aside.
Rio’s chief executive, Jakob Stausholm, has repeatedly apologised for the destruction, saying in a statement last week that it “should never have happened and we are deeply sorry for our actions”.
“I visited Juukan Gorge earlier this year to apologise and express my deep regret for the damage we caused,” he said. “I witnessed and felt first-hand the pain we have inflicted, and I will never forget that. I am grateful to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama elders for their willingness to meet me and other senior Rio Tinto leaders when they had every right not to.”
He added: “We know we will be judged by our actions. We must do better, and we will. That is our commitment.”