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Article

27 Aug 2021

Author:
Calla Wahlquist, The Guardian

Indigenous groups demand judicial inquiry into Rio Tinto's Marandoo mine

"Rio Tinto should face judicial inquiry over Marandoo mine, Indigenous groups say", 27 August 2021

Traditional owners who lost hundreds of artefacts and haven’t been paid royalties under a deal brokered between the Western Australian government and Rio Tinto in the early 1990s say the mining company should face a judicial inquiry.

The federal parliamentary inquiry into Rio Tinto’s destruction of the 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge rock shelters held its final public hearing on Friday.

The last to give evidence, Rio Tinto’s Australian chief executive, Kellie Parker... used the hearing to publicly apologise to the Eastern Guruma people for the destruction of hundreds of artefacts that were salvaged from Rio Tinto’s Marandoo mine in the 1990s, sent to Darwin to be studied, and ended up in a rubbish dump.

Consent to salvage the materials was granted by the WA government in 1992 under the Aboriginal Heritage Act, the same legislation used to approve the destruction of Juukan Gorge.

Management of the mine was authorised under a separate act of parliament, the Marandoo Act 1992, which meant the Eastern Guruma people were unable to mount any legal challenges and also do not receive ongoing royalties.

[...]

Tony Bevan, a director of Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation, which represents the Eastern Guruma people in the Marandoo agreement, said Rio had also lost its social licence and should face a judicial inquiry.

“They should face a judicial inquiry just so they can be compelled to answer the questions, because there’s quite a few questions today that they did not answer,” Bevan told Guardian Australia.

[...]

The Labor senator for Western Australia Patrick Dodson asked Parker if Rio agreed that the principle of free, prior and informed consent, which is a core principle of the United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, should be included in Australian laws governing the protection of cultural heritage. He also asked if Rio believed native title holders should have an exclusive right to determine whether their sacred site can be destroyed or not.

Parker said Rio “continues to strive to achieve free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous communities and we’ve learned a lot since Juukan”

She also said the company “recognises that traditional owners are the only people who can determine cultural significance”.

Dodson said neither response really answered the question.

[...]

The committee is due to file its final report by 18 October.

[...]

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