The National Native Title Council (NNTC) welcomes the dismissal of Rio Tinto’s three executives, CEO Jean-Sebastien Jacques, Iron Ore boss Chris Salisbury and corporate affairs boss Simone Niven, under whose leadership the 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge caves were bombed in May, but warns a company staff change is only the crucial first step.
The NNTC wrote a letter to Rio Tinto’s London-based Chair Simon Thompson two days ago calling for largescale cultural change within the company ahead of its board meeting yesterday.
NNTC and Professor Marcia Langton met with Rio in June after the company invited them to take part in a board-led review of the catastrophe. After Rio failed to accept the group’s recommendations for a transparent review led by an independent body, the group decided to walk away from any involvement, not convinced the company was committed to real change.
The NNTC’s CEO Jamie Lowe stated:
“Today we welcome the decision of the Rio Tinto board, who’ve shown they’re prepared to take the crucial first step towards accountability. I think we are all in agreeance that the initial measures doled out by the Rio board in cutting executive bonuses did not go far enough. Several million dollars in lost income is a drop in the ocean for these individuals, whose governance failings and calculated decisions robbed Australia and Traditional Owners of a world heritage significant site.”
“We hope this will send a strong message to the whole mining sector: You need to join the 21st Century and start taking your Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) seriously. This is not only unbecoming of a global company operating in 2020, but it would have been an insult to Indigenous peoples that the same executives who presided over the destruction of their sacred site should be the same executives who were to be entrusted with implenting the changes needed.”
“We have been pleased to see some of Rio’s major investors put pressure on the company as well. We do fear that if this is the behaviour of a company thought to have sector-leading standards, what is the risk another Juukan Gorge-type incident will happen again, without sector-wide reforms? Traditional Owners are not anti-economic development. They just want to be able to protect their most significant cultural heritage sites.”
To stop something like the Juukan destruction happening again, the NNTC is calling for an open, transparent and independent review of Rio’s processes and company culture, as it originally proposed. This will require more Indigenous staff in leadership roles. The NNTC is also calling for the legislation of best practice national standards for the management and protection of cultural heritage at the federal level. Australia is currently lacking strong federal cultural heritage laws, and laws in the states and territories, and federally, do not interact efficiently.
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Note to Editors: Jamie Lowe is Chief Executive of the National Native Title Council and a Djabwurrung Gunditjmara man. He is also an elected representative on the Victorian Treaty Assembly.