Rio Tinto Mines Ordered To Restore Ancient Aboriginal Caves Blown Up In May

Mining giant Rio Tinto must rebuild a 46,000-year-old Aboriginal cave system it blew up in May, an Australian parliamentary inquiry has said.

BBC News says the Juukan Gorge caves in Western Australia were destroyed as part of an iron ore exploration project.

The Juukan Gorge cave site before and after the mining works

In a report just released, the inquiry has blasted Rio Tinto’s ‘inexcusable’ act, and says they should compensate the traditional owners.

Rio Tinto, which operates the NZ aluminium smelter at Bluff, repeated an apology and pledged to change its practices.

Resignations follow desecration

Earlier this year several senior figures at the company, including Chief Executive Jean-Sébastien Jacques, resigned over the incident, following a backlash from shareholders and the public.

Before their destruction, the Juukan Gorge caves in Pilbara had shown evidence of continuous human habitation since the last Ice Age.

They were seen as one of Australia’s most significant archaeological research sites, but they also had more than eight million tonnes of high-grade iron ore, with an estimated value of £75m (A$132m; $96m).

Following an outcry over their destruction Rio Tinto held an inquiry, after which it cut bonuses for directors and began attempts at repairing relations with Aboriginal communities.

Parliamentary Inquiry

A parliamentary inquiry was also established to investigate Rio Tinto’s behaviour and assess the damage caused to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) people – the traditional owners of the land where the caves were based.

In its report – titled Never Again – the inquiry concluded Rio Tinto ‘knew the value of what they were destroying but blew it up anyway.’

NZ connection

Earlier this year, Rio Tinto said it will shut down its New Zealand aluminium smelter (NZAS) in a move that will cost thousands of jobs.

Rio said a strategic review had shown the business was no longer viable given high energy costs and a challenging outlook for the aluminum industry.

The hydro-powered NZAS smelter at Tiwai Point employs about 1000 people and indirectly supports about 1600 other jobs.

Rio said NZAS had given Meridian Energy notice to terminate a power contract, which will end in August 2021, when the wind-down of operations is expected to be complete.

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