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Australian Lawmakers Condemn Destruction of Sacred Aboriginal Sites

FILE PHOTO: A sign adorns the building where mining company Rio Tinto has their office in Perth, Western Australia
FILE PHOTO: A sign adorns the building where mining company Rio Tinto has their office in Perth, Western Australia

An Australian parliamentary inquiry into the destruction of 46,000-year-old Indigenous caves in Australia by Rio Tinto has sharply criticized the actions of one of the world’s biggest mining companies.

Never Again is the title of the parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia report into the blasting of the Juukan Gorge caves in Western Australia’s Pilbara region by mining giant Rio Tinto this year. The rock shelters were sacred to local Indigenous communities.

Senator Pat Dodson called it one of the worst avoidable disasters “that has ever happened in our country."

The report said the decision to destroy the ancient shelters, against the wishes of the Aboriginal owners, and despite knowing the archaeological value of the site, was “inexcusable.” They were detonated in the search for high-grade iron ore.

Indigenous groups told the inquiry it was a “shocking act of corporate vandalism to our very sacred site.”

The committee report makes seven main recommendations, including that Rio Tinto fully rebuild the area and pay compensation. The company is urged to abandon all mining projects in the region.

Deanna Kemp, the director of the Center for Social Responsibility in Mining at the University of Queensland, said the report shows that Indigenous culture needs greater protection.

“This inquiry has really lifted the lid on all of the complexities, the flaws in the system and the failure to protect important heritage,” she said. “But it has also really shown us the reticence of companies to disclose and share information as well. So, what they included in their submissions was quite general and then what was unearthed during testimony and questions on notice we have got a lot more specific detail on many different aspects of this tragedy.”

Rio Tinto has previously apologized for the destruction of the caves. The scandal forced three executives to leave the company. Its demolition of the Juukan Gorge caves was technically legal under Western Australian legislation, which is now being reviewed. The inquiry said the laws were “woefully out of date and poorly administered.”

The final Parliamentary report is expected next year, which is expected to contain more details about the various recommendations, although its findings will not be legally binding.