Peter Stone, Unesco’s chair in cultural property protection and peace, said the archaeological destruction at Juukan Gorge was among the worst seen in recent history, likening it to the Taliban blowing up the Bamiyan Buddhas statues in Afghanistan and Isis annihilating sites in the Syrian city of Palmyra.
Lawyers for the PKKP wrote to the federal Indigenous affairs minister, Ken Wyatt, with an eleventh hour plea to save the site and were advised to contact the environment minister, Sussan Ley, to request she intervene on heritage grounds. The federal powers to stop the destruction of Aboriginal heritage are rarely used.
“The upshot of Rio Tinto’s submissions and report is that the destruction of Juukan Gorge was all a tragic mistake for which everyone and no one is responsible. Yet the minutes of internal Rio Tinto meetings on 21 and 22 May, several days before the Juukan blast, reveal a different story.
Throughout his evidence to the parliamentary inquiry, and in the 84-page response to questions on notice provided last week, Jacques appeared to put the blame for his ignorance of the potential ramifications of destroying such a heritage-listed site against the wishes of traditional owners back on Perth-based chief executive of iron ore, Chris Salisbury.
The move came after a week in which investors queued up to denounce as inadequate the board’s previous decision to cut the executives’ short-term bonuses over the scandal and the head of a parliamentary committee looking into the affair raised concerns that the company had given misleading evidence to the inquiry.
Two other executives are also departing: Chris Salisbury, head of the iron ore business, and Simone Niven, group executive for corporate relations. Salisbury is stepping down from his position immediately and will leave the company at the end of the year. Niven will also exit at the end of December.
The traditional owners of the ancient cultural sites, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people, have wanted a more prominent public platform to present their views on the disaster since it took place in May.
“We will continue to work with Rio Tinto in the aftermath of the Juukan Gorge disaster. Our focus continues to rest heavily on preserving Aboriginal heritage and advocating for wide-ranging changes to ensure a tragedy like this never happens again,” the corporation said in a statement.
Rio Tinto announced last month that Jacques would lose $3.5 million in bonuses and Salisbury and Niven around $700,000 each over the destruction in May of two rock shelters in Juukan George in Western Australia state that had been inhabited for 46,000 years.
“By mutual agreement, J-S Jacques will step down from his role as an executive director and Chief Executive of the Group. A process to identify his successor is underway … Chris Salisbury will step down as Chief Executive, Iron Ore with immediate effect and will leave Rio Tinto on 31 December 2020 … Simone Niven […]