Western Australia’s ‘archaic’ heritage laws are in the spotlight as global outrage grows over the destruction of Aboriginal sites
Calls are growing for an immediate halt to mining operations in the Pilbara that have been approved under Western Australia’s “archaic” Aboriginal heritage laws and the Senate will hold an urgent inquiry, as international outrage from investors pushes big mining companies Rio Tinto and BHP into damage control.
On Thursday, Guardian Australia revealed that BHP Billiton was poised to destroy at least 40 significant Aboriginal sites in the central Pilbara to expand its A$4.5bn South Flank iron-ore mine, even though it was aware the traditional owners are deeply opposed to the move.
By day’s end, following public outcry, the company said it would not go ahead without “further extensive consultation” with the traditional owners, the Banjima people.
The mounting backlash against mining companies for their destruction of Aboriginal heritage grew after Rio Tinto’s destruction of a 46,000-year-old heritage site at Juukan Gorge last month, and their actions have been compared by shareholder groups to widespread bad conduct in the financial services sector before the banking royal commission.
Rio Tinto’s global chief, Jean-Sebastien Jacques, made his first public comment on the issue on Friday, saying “we are very sorry for the distress we have caused the PKKP in relation to Juukan Gorge and our first priority remains rebuilding trust with the PKKP.”