MAC: Mines and Communities

Rio Tinto says "sorry" for Aboriginal heritage destruction but "we aren't to blame"

Published by MAC on 2020-06-19
Source: The Guardian

London Calling reflects on a wonderland hypocrisy

Consistent with its rearing on imperialist ideology, Rio Tinto continues taking a leaf from the book of a leading 19th century exponent of word-trickery in the service of self preservation.

Here, in the 1872 work "Through the Looking Glass", we discover young heroine Alice conversing with the Mad Hatter, the March Hare and Dormouse, where she asserts: "At least – at least I mean what I say – that’s the same thing, you know.”

“Not the same thing a bit!” said the Hatter. “You might just as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see’!”

 "You might just as well say,” added the March Hare, “that ‘I like what I get’ is the same thing as ‘I get what I like’!”

“You might just as well say,” added the Dormouse, who seemed to be talking in his sleep, “that ‘I breathe when I sleep’ is the same thing as ‘I sleep when I breathe’!”

Just how, one might ask, has the British-Australian mining giant escaped being immersed in yet another  hypocrisy: one that merely compounds its historical miscreancies? [See: The Weekend Essay ].

[London Calling is published by Nostromo Research]


Leaked tape reveals Rio Tinto does not regret destroying 46,000-year-old Aboriginal rock shelter to expand mine

Iron ore boss reportedly told a staff meeting that the company was apologising for the distress caused, not the destruction

Calla Wahlquist

The Guardian

17 June

Rio Tinto has repeated its apology to traditional owners for the destruction of a rock shelter that had been occupied for more than 46,000 years, after its iron ore chief executive, Chris Salisbury, reportedly told a staff meeting that the apology was for any distress caused, not an admission the company had done wrong.

According to the Australian Financial Review, which says it heard a recording of a Rio Tinto staff meeting held last Wednesday, Salisbury described the events leading up to the detonation of the site, then said: “That’s why we haven’t apologised for the event itself, per se, but apologised for the distress the event caused.”

He also reassured staff the company maintained the backing of “political leaders of both sides” (despite the federal Labor party forming a Senate inquiry), saying he had “engaged with lots and lots of stakeholders and … quietly, there is still support for us out there”.

He also reportedly told staff the episode was “quite galling to me as well, because we are recognised … as one of the leading resources companies in this field”.

On Wednesday, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) Aboriginal Corporation released a statement saying they had been “working with Rio Tinto in an effort to restore our fractured relationship” and met with mining company officials, including Salisbury, as recently as Friday.

“To date, our discussions have been productive and we believe Rio Tinto’s apologies to be genuine and sincere – both in terms of the physical destruction of the Juukan Gorge rock shelters, as well as the trauma caused by the loss of this globally significant heritage site,” they said.

“Monday’s story by Joe Aston in the Australian Financial Review raises questions relating to the sincerity of Rio Tinto’s apologies, including those made publicly and privately by Mr Salisbury.

“We will be addressing this matter with Rio Tinto so as to ensure transparency and trust in our conversations as we continue to determine the way forward.”

In a statement to Guardian Australia on Monday, Salisbury did not contradict the report but said: “Consistent with my conversations directly with the PKKP people over recent weeks, Rio Tinto apologises for what happened at Juukan Gorge.”

“We have made it clear to the PKKP that we are very sorry – it was never our intent to cause distress,” he said. “Rio Tinto employees are hurting and I am personally distressed. We are committed to learning from this incident and doing all we can to improve. We are working closely with the PKKP to find a clear way forward on future plans for the Juukan Gorge.”

Salisbury made a similar comment on Radio National this month, telling the host Hamish Macdonald: “It hurts even more that actually we have been previously recognised as being leaders in the field and clearly we have now got work to do to regain that leadership position.”

Salisbury did not answer directly when Macdonald repeatedly asked if the company was “wrong” to blow up the site, only repeating that they were sorry for any distress caused and that he had personally “taken accountability that there clearly was a misunderstanding about the future of the Juukan Gorge”.

The staff meeting occurred as Rio Tinto’s UK-based chairman, Simon Thompson, was meeting with top shareholders who had proclaimed themselves “deeply concerned” about the destruction of the site and Rio’s management of the matter.

Neither the federal Liberal government nor the Western Australian Labor government have directly criticised the mining giant.

The federal Indigenous affairs minister, Ken Wyatt, told the ABC last week that the relationship between Rio Tinto and traditional owners, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura peoples, was at the beginning “quite strong, at different intervals it appeared to be still strong, but when it came to the crunch of mining in a location the elders weren’t included”.

“So we have to make sure that mining companies work with, and seek, advice from elders about the sites that have to be protected,” he said.


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