- Rio Tinto Limited (ASX:RIO) is making news post blasting the Juukan Gorge 1 and 2 – Aboriginal rock shelters.
- The rock shelters hold deep historical and cultural significance and are the only inland site across the continent, showing human occupation continuing through the last Ice Age.
- However, the destruction by Rio is completely by the book, which in turn, calls for a reform in the state legislation allowing the manipulation at the Aboriginal heritage site.
- Rio is currently abiding by the Aboriginal Heritage Act – 1972, and the WA government is currently reviewing the laws as part of the process, which started two years back.
Rio Tinto Limited (ASX:RIO) is breaking the headlines after the Company blasted the Juukan Gorge 1 and 2 – Aboriginal rock shelters, which dates back to 46,000 years in order to expand its iron ore mine in the Western Pilbara region.
The Destruction of the Juukan Gorge 1 and 2 – Aboriginal rock shelters
The Juukan Gorge 1 and 2 – Aboriginal rock shelters had developed deep historical and cultural significance over time as they are the only inland site across the continent, showing human occupation continuing through the last Ice Age.
The mining blast pulled by the Anglo-Australian miner triggered considerable distress among the traditional landowners of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (or PKKP). The heritage site is an integral part of the Aboriginal community and for their culture, and it also holds a global significance while forming a pivotal part of heritage for all citizens.
However, the blast at the site was not an isolated incident as the Company had previously secured ministerial consent in 2003 to explore the Juukan Gorge Caves and conduct activities in the Brockman 4 mine.
Rio’s Expansion Plans
In November 2019, Rio announced that the Company had allocated $1 billion investment in the Greater Tom Price operations wholly-owned by the Company in order to expand the iron ore business in the Pilbara region.
Furthermore, the Company suggested that the investment in the Western Turner Syncline Phase 2 mine would facilitate in the mining of existing and new deposits while constructing a new crusher as well, which would further create a 13-kilometre conveyor that would assist in bringing down greenhouse gas emissions from the mine by 3.5 per cent.
The Company had planned the construction during the first quarter of the year 2020 with the anticipation that the first ore from the crusher would be obtained by 2021. Rio citied that the production of high-quality Brockman ore would support the Pilbara Blend product of the Company.
Rio also assessed previously that the project would deliver an attractive internal rate of return (or IRR) along with a capital intensity of USD 25 per tonne of the production capacity.
Rio Did it all by The Book- Need Reform Changes- Says Chief Executive of the National Native Title Council- Jamie Lowe.
However, in the status quo, the recent destruction caused by Rio’s blast is now calling for a change in the approval process for works which could hamper the Aboriginal heritage sites.
As per the recent comments of Jamie Lowe- Chief Executive of the National Native Title Council to the media, the state legislation allowing the manipulation at the Aboriginal heritage site requires immediate reforms.
“This has been happening forever really Australia as we know it”, and more power and more rights need to be given to Aboriginal people.”- Says Jamie Lowe.
No Provision to Prevent the Atrocity
Rio Tinto, which received the licence to explore the heritage site was allowed by the Barnett government in 2013 under the Section 18 of the Aboriginal Heritage Act, which allows landowners to apply for an exemption to laws that prohibits work if they are likely to affect Aboriginal sites.
The recent blast and destruction by Rio is now attracting a strong community backlash as it was not an isolated incident across the continent, which had targeted heritage sites. For example, in 2019, a $2.1 billion light rail line in Sydney potentially destroyed a site of substantial significance, while the ancient rock art on the Burrup Peninsula is under an imminent threat across north WA from plans for a gas project.
The federal Department of Agriculture, Water, and the Environment is responsible for listing, identifying, regulating, and monitoring heritage places, and under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) it is an offence to hamper such sites once identified and labelled.
However, the destruction of one such site by the Company was in line with the book as the destroyed Juukan gorge unveiled the true archaeological evidence after the Company secured the consent to explore it, and in the current state of affairs, there is no provision, which could apply a brake on such a consent once given.
Rio is currently abiding by the Aboriginal Heritage Act – 1972, and the WA government is currently reviewing the laws as part of the, process which started two years back.
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