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Australia Juukan Gorge inquiry hears of doubts over WA Government's approval of Rio Tinto application

12:06  21 september  2020
12:06  21 september  2020 Source:   msn.com

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Inquiry also hears doubts over validity of Juukan Gorge approval mean WA could be liable for compensation claim. There are 124 Aboriginal heritage sites that are in the path of Rio Tinto ’ s Western Range deposit in WA . Photograph: Amy Coopes/AFP/Getty Images.

Juukan Gorge , in Western Australia , one of the earliest The Juukan one and two sites are listed on WA ’ s Aboriginal heritage register as Brock-20 and Brock-21. Negotiations over the protection of Juukan Gorge began in 2003. In 2005, Hamersley Iron, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Rio Tinto

a canyon with a mountain in the background: The red, rocky Hamersley Range, in the Pilbara region of WA. (ABC Rural: Eliza Wood) © Provided by ABC Business The red, rocky Hamersley Range, in the Pilbara region of WA. (ABC Rural: Eliza Wood)

Doubts have been raised about the legality of the Western Australian Government's approval for the destruction of Juukan Gorge in 2013.

A federal inquiry investigating Rio Tinto's destruction of ancient Pilbara rock shelters has been told the December 2013 meeting of the Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee may have been invalid because it did not have a legal quorum.

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Rio Tinto CEO learnt of Juukan Gorge significance the day it exploded. She said 26 of the sites at Western Range were subject to Section 18 approvals which, under WA ’ s outdated “ Rio Tinto has engaged with the Yinhawangka people for over two decades on heritage related matters on their

Rio Tinto is ‘under the spotlight’ over the Juukan Gorge blast, Adam Matthews of the UK’ s The Rio Tinto board is due to meet this week amid heavy criticism of its behaviour by investors, Australian The WA government would not be drawn on Entsch’ s request for a moratorium on s 18 applications

The committee recommended the then minister for Aboriginal Affairs approve Rio Tinto's application to destroy, damage or alter the sites under Section 18 of the Aboriginal Heritage Act seven years before the blasting activity happened in May this year.

"There is a high likelihood that that recommendation to the minister was invalid," Greens MP Robin Chapple told the hearing.

"The reason for that is the act specifies that only two members of that committee can be ex-officio when it comes to a quorum of five."

The committee had three ex-officio members, as well as a committee member and a chairperson.

"There is legal advice and precedent that if an entity is supposed to provide the minister with recommendations, and those recommendations are deemed to be invalid, then the minister's decision in itself is invalid."

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Rio Tinto today reiterated its determination to ensure that the destruction of heritage sites of exceptional archaeological and cultural significance In its submission to the Australian Parliamentary Inquiry into the destruction of the rockshelters at the Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara region of Western

Rio Tinto was given permission to blast Juukan Gorge 1 and 2 under Section 18 of the Aboriginal Heritage Act. (Supplied: Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Rio Tinto ' s approach to Aboriginal heritage is under the microscope as former employees give evidence to a parliamentary inquiry investigating the

Mr Chapple said traditional owners the PKKP Aboriginal Corporation should be compensated by the State Government if it is proven the approval process was invalid.

The revelation came on the fourth day of public hearings into the mining company's destruction of the shelters, and amid growing evidence and concern over complicated claim-wide agreements traditional owners signed with mining companies.

Ahead of the hearing, Mr Chapple threw his support behind calls for a royal commission into the Juukan Gorge destruction, saying it could compel the release of these wide-ranging secret agreements.

"The claim-wide participation agreements, which were signed with all the various mobs over a number of years, are confidential," he said.

"A royal commission can subpoena them. The current committee can ask for them [but] they may or may not get them."

Yinhawangka concern over sites

A second group of Pilbara traditional owners has raised concerns about the impact of Rio Tinto's mining activities on its ancient heritage.

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MELBOURNE, Australia --(BUSINESS WIRE)-- Rio Tinto today reiterated its determination to ensure that the destruction of heritage sites of exceptional In its submission to the Australian Parliamentary Inquiry into the destruction of the rockshelters at the Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara region of Western

Yinhawangka Aboriginal Corporation archaeologist Anna Fagan said there were "big concerns" over Rio Tinto plans to destroy 124 of 327 heritage sites with its Western Range Expansion project in the Hammersley Range.

Dr Fagan said there had only been limited archaeological research, but some rock shelters dated back 26,000 years and contained a rich deposit of artefacts with the potential to be much older.

Until now, protection of sites depended on them being within a national park, or on Rio Tinto's "goodwill", Yinhawangka Aboriginal Corporation's chief executive officer Grant Bussell said.

"We rely on Rio's goodwill," Mr Bussell said.

"I certainly believe that because of your inquiry, I think, and the failures that happened in the PKKP country, they are more sensitive now and a little more careful about the protection of sites.

"We are getting positive-sounding statements out of Rio. [But] I couldn't point to a single tangible bit of progress, I'd have to say."

Mr Bussell raised concerns about the claim-wide agreements, which prevent traditional owners from objecting to mining activity or even speaking publicly about the agreements, although BHP last week said it would remove its gag clauses.

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Rio Tinto has provided additional information to the Australian Parliamentary Inquiry into the destruction of the rockshelters at the Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara region of Western Australia . The additional information relates to questions taken on notice when Rio Tinto provided evidence to the

MELBOURNE, Australia--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- Rio Tinto has provided additional information to the Australian Parliamentary Inquiry into the destruction of the rockshelters at the Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara region of Western Australia .

He said he received a letter from Rio Tinto on Friday giving him permission to talk about the agreement at today's inquiry.

Mr Bussell said there was a power imbalance in the negotiations over the 300-page 2013 claim-wide participation agreement, and he called for new laws "that require informed consent before agreements like ours are entered into".

"Consent, you know when it's not there," Mr Bussell said. "You can take my word for it … it was not informed consent that happened."

Rio Tinto said a feasibility study was underway into the Western Range project, which included extensive consultation and engagement with traditional owners, the Yinhawangka People.

“The Western Range project area currently has 370 known heritage sites and Rio Tinto has so far taken steps to protect more than 250 of these,” the company said in a statement.

“The remaining sites continue to be reviewed and assessed, with further s16 excavations to be conducted with the Yinhawangka People.”

Rio Tinto also said it had committed to modernising its participation agreement “including in relation to consent, to ensure the Yinhawangka People can raise concerns or objections relating to the impacts of our operations on their country”.

Juukan 'may happen again'

He also expressed concern that another incident like the Juukan Gorge destruction may happen again, despite efforts by the WA Government to reform its Aboriginal heritage laws.

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"I don't see a single thing that would stop Juukan happening again," he said.

"This is Western Australia. The mining industry is very powerful.

"It's a very good force for the whole country and for WA, but when you bring it up against Aboriginal people and Aboriginal culture … you guys know as well as I know who is going to come out on top."

Earlier, geologist Cedric Davies raised concerns about the undue influence of mining companies on government decisions.

He told the inquiry he had experienced very different responses from government depending on whether he was working for an Aboriginal native title group or for the mining industry.

Mr Davies also said he was surprised that when he applied for a job at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, there was an employee of a mining company on the panel.

"In WA there's this, I think it's in the blood — mining good, not mining bad, and it infuses everything," Mr Davies said.


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