Rio Tinto to publish report into blasting at 46,000-year-old heritage site

Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto has bowed to pressure from campaigners to publish a report into why it blew up a 46,000-year-old heritage site in Australia.

Chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques said the company needs to regain the trust of local Aboriginal people amid a storm over its decision to blast at the Juukan Gorge site.

Bosses promised to publish a board-led review of its heritage management.

It will take input from the local Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people, and will speak to indigenous leaders and experts before reporting in October.

Simon Thompson, chairman of Rio Tinto, said: “On behalf of the Rio Tinto board, I would like to apologise to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people.

“The decision to conduct a board-led review of events at Juukan Gorge reflects our determination to learn lessons from what happened and to make any necessary improvements to our heritage processes and governance.”

Outrage was stirred in May when the mining giant, which is listed in London, destroyed the important heritage site in order to expand an iron mine.

It caused Reconciliation Australia, a group set up to campaign for good relationships with indigenous peoples, to sever ties with Rio, calling the blasting “a breathtaking breach of a respectful relationship”.

It said: “It was devastating for the Traditional Owners and robbed the world of a uniquely valuable cultural heritage site.

“The pain caused by this action extends to First Peoples and their allies across Australia and around the world.”

It said that relations could only be re-established after a full review is published into how the destruction was allowed to happen.

Mr Jacques said: “Our immediate priority is to regain the trust of Traditional Owners, starting with the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people. We very much look forward to incorporating the findings of the board-led review into our heritage processes and approach.”

Rio has previously apologised for destroying the site in May.

However, a recording of a meeting leaked to the Australian Financial Review earlier this month revealed the company had deliberately only said sorry for the distress it caused, not the damage itself.

According to the paper, iron ore boss Chris Salisbury gave a lengthy explanation of the events leading to the blasting last month, in response to a complaint over the apology from a member of staff.

He said: “That’s why we haven’t apologised for the event itself, per se, but apologised for the distress the event caused.”

Mr Salisbury added that the destruction is “quite galling to me as well, because we are recognised … as one of the leading resources companies in this field”, according to the report.