Senator Dean Smith, a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia since 2016, has taken the opportunity to make additional comments on the Committee’s interim report – “Never Again – Inquiry into the destruction of 46,000 year old caves at the Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.
Senator Smith said it was important to ensure Western Australia’s interests were sufficiently represented in the interim report.
The Senator will outline his observations in remarks to the Senate this evening when the interim report is tabled, calling for greater accountability from Rio Tinto and outlining the devastating effect a proposed moratorium would have on the resource and mining industry in Western Australia.
COMMENTS ATTRIBUTABLE TO SENATOR SMITH
On Rio Tinto:
“The destruction of the Juukan Gorge rock shelters was a devastating, and preventable, event from which urgent lessons must be learnt.”
“We must deal with Rio Tinto’s conduct now, with a view to holding those responsible to full account, ending the uncertainty for involved parties and beginning to heal the wounds this event has created.”
“Rio Tinto must continue to be held accountable for the irreversible damage it has caused and should not believe the investigation into its culpability is over.”
“I urge Rio Tinto to genuinely and independently review its actions, rather than its insufficient board review, and be honest and transparent with the Australian people.”
“The PKKP can be confident I will champion the movement to ensure Rio Tinto reconstructs the damaged area and delivers above and beyond its commitments.”
“Rio Tinto should acknowledge the significant profit generated from Western Australia with greater executive level and board presence in the state, as well as moving the executive responsible for heritage matters from the UK to Australia.”
On the WA Resource and Mining Industry:
“Rio Tinto’s conduct is not typical of the wider Western Australian resource and mining industry, which is committed to strong relationships with traditional owners and the entire community.”
“It is important to understand that we can hold Rio Tinto accountable to a higher standard and deliver regulatory certainty for the WA resource and mining industry – one does not need to stop to achieve the other.”
On a Section 18 Moratorium and Other Regulation:
“All references to a moratorium must be avoided, as they could inadvertently signal to international and domestic investors a slowdown in WA resource and mining opportunities.”
“A moratorium on Section 18 of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 would put the brakes on the WA resource and mining industry and risks devastating that industry and everything it supports, including the Indigenous enterprises which service it, the recipients of native title related payments, and the wider Indigenous and Non-Indigenous community in WA.”
“A full moratorium would stop MetroNet, the Perth Airport runway, and countless other resource projects across the state. It is a step too far, and its inclusion represents a sovereign risk.”
“I disagree with the Committee’s lack of confidence in Section 18 approvals and the suggestion that there is no meaningful involvement by Aboriginal people in their heritage, given both the current membership of the ACMC and the final decision maker, WA Minister for Aboriginal Affairs the Hon. Ben Wyatt.”
“The effect of mining on heritage should be minimised, with sites of the significance of Juukan Gorge protected, but traditional owners and industry must be empowered to enter into agreements to manage these heritage matters for mutual benefit into the future.”
“Rather than a regulatory overreaction, we should instead use this terrible event as a catalyst to improve agreement making with traditional owners.”