The National Native Title Council (NNTC) has labelled Rio Tinto’s admissions to the Senate Inquiry into the destruction of the 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge caves “disgraceful” and has pointed the finger again at the grossly out-dated Aboriginal Heritage Act (AHA) in Western Australia.

Rio Tinto’s executives appeared before the parliamentary inquiry on Friday, making a number of revelations, including the fact that the company had three other options when planning the expansion of its Pilbara mine, but admitted only one option was presented to the Traditional Owners. The other three options all would have avoided the destruction of the heritage site.

Despite managers within the company knowing in advance the enormous archaeological and cultural significance of the site, executives state they were not made aware until a week before its detonation.

NNTC Chief Executive Jamie Lowe states:

“Rio Tinto has put a meagre price on a 46,000-year-old cultural heritage site – a site ten times older than the Egyptian pyramids – and that price is a mere $135 million. By choosing the destruction of these caves because it led to higher quality iron ore worth an estimated $135 million, Rio is telling us that’s all our heritage is worth.”

“To hear that the Traditional Owners were told there was only one option – to blow up the caves – when there were actually several, shows a complete disregard for the principle of ‘free, prior and informed consent’.”

“The Juukan Gorge Inquiry has really laid bare a huge cultural deficit within Rio Tinto at all levels of the company, and it’s fair to say, a moral deficit that prioritises short-term profits above all else.  This arrogant disregard for Aboriginal culture and Australia’s oldest, most invaluable heritage must be stamped out if the company has any hope of repairing its trust with Traditional Owners.”

“The heat has been on Rio – and rightly so – but we must keep reiterating that this only happened because the Western Australian and Commonwealth Governments allowed it to. Western Australia’s out-dated heritage laws are up for review and we will continue urging the WA Government to amend this legislation as a matter of urgency and ensure Traditional Owners are front and centre of future heritage decision-making. In addition, we are continuing to encourage the Commonwealth to adopt best practice national standards in heritage management to bring some consistency to the sector.”


You can read the NNTC’s submission to the Juukan Gorge Inquiry here.

For more information please contact Megan Giles – or 0433 028 567

Note to Editors: Jamie Lowe is Chief Executive of the National Native Title Council and a Gunditjmara Djab Wurrung man. He is also an elected representative on the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria.

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