The National Native Title Council (NNTC) has welcomed news Rio Tinto Chairman Simon Thompson and director Michael L’Estrange will exit the board by 2022.

Mr Thompson has sat on the Rio Tinto board since 2014 and became Chair in 2018, presiding over the catastrophic destruction of the 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge caves and the company leadership’s inertia in the aftermath. Despite multiple calls for an independent review, the board opted for an internal review, led by Mr L’Estrange, which was widely discredited.

The NNTC wrote to Mr Thompson in September 2020 calling for largescale cultural change within the company after the board refused to dismiss key executives responsible for the cultural heritage destruction, before finally caving to pressure.

NNTC CEO Jamie Lowe stated:

“We are pleased to hear that Mr Thompson has finally taken accountability for the poor governance decisions which led to the tragic events at Juukan Gorge.”

“Not only did we see the tragic theft of cultural heritage at Juukan, but the Rio Tinto board’s handling of the disaster was profoundly disappointing and an insult to the Traditional Owners who continued to act in good faith, even after their heritage was intentionally destroyed.”

“Rio Tinto has finally realised that the leaders who presided over this disaster could not be the leaders entrusted to repair it. It’s a pity that they only execute these necessary reforms when they’re under intense public or shareholder scrutiny. They commenced an overhaul of their executive team including with the appointments of Jakob Stausholm as CEO and Kellie Parker as Australian CEO. We will wait to see what they can deliver in terms of rebuilding trust with Traditional Owners and the broader Australian community”

“It is paramount that we see significant law reform in Western Australia – without this, it doesn’t matter how many leadership changes we see within the mining sector, to adequately manage and protect our cultural heritage, the buck stops with government.”

NNTC Chairman Kado Muir stated:

“I look forward to First Nation leadership in Australia striking a direct line of communication and dialogue with the incoming chair of Rio Tinto to rebuild relationships and support a cultural transformation based on sound principles and mutual respect.”


For more information please contact Megan Giles – megan.giles@nntc.com.au or 0433 028 567

Note to Editors: Jamie Lowe is CEO of the National Native Title Council and a Djab Wurrung Gunditjmara man. He is also an elected representative on the Victorian Treaty Assembly.

Posted Under: