MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Rio vows to seek approval

Published by MAC on 2003-04-19

Rio vows to seek approval

By Maria Hawthorne and AAP, Herald Sun

19 April 2003

GLOBAL mining group Rio Tinto plc has confirmed it won't proceed with the Jabiluka uranium mine without the consent of the region's traditional land owners.

Rio Tinto chairman Sir Robert Wilson said his promise about Jabiluka to the Mirrar people would not be forgotten when he retired in October.

"This commitment doesn't disappear with my retirement," he told the annual meeting in London on Thursday which was regularly interrupted by rowdy shareholders angry at a 22 per cent rise in directors' fees.

At one point they blasted independent director Sir Richard Sykes who sought to have them banned from future annual meetings.

Sir Richard, who is chairman of Rio Tinto's remuneration committee, came under fire on several fronts.

The small shareholders:

ATTACKED the board and management for alleged lack of contingency funding to cover potential lawsuits, and;

RAISED concerns about safety issues involving projects in the US and Papua New Guinea.

Sir Robert sought to restore calm by making the Jabiluka commitment.

"The question of putting a clear commitment into legal form is, I understand, under discussion," he said.

The Jabiluka mine is under development by Rio Tinto's 68 per cent subsidiary Energy Resources of Australia which also operates the nearby Ranger uranium mine.

The Rio Tinto board also denied it was ignoring potential court cases involving environmental damage and health problems caused by its past activities in areas ranging from the northern England city of Hull to Bougainville and PNG.

"There are a number of court cases around at any one time but the opinion of the board is that they don't represent a significant risk," finance director Guy Elliott said.

On the 22 per cent pay issue, Sir Robert defended the rise which will lift non-executive directors' fees from pound stg. 46,000 a year to pound stg. 56,000 ($A119,050 to $A144,925).

He said the increases were necessary given increasing potential for board members to be sued in the post-Enron business environment.

"The burden and demands and potential liability has risen sharply and this company has had to address the question of whether fees need to be raised appropriately," he said.

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