Rio’s latest rock shelter damage highlights need for Aboriginal Voice, advocates say

Rio’s latest rock shelter damage highlights need for Aboriginal Voice, advocates say

Advocates argue that the damage caused to an Aboriginal rock shelter by mining company Rio Tinto highlights the need for improved heritage protection laws and increased Indigenous representation, as promised in the upcoming Voice referendum. Rio Tinto admitted to damaging the rock shelter in Western Australia’s Pilbara region and is now working with the Muntulgura Guruma people to assess the situation. This incident follows Rio’s destruction of rock shelters at Juukan Gorge in 2020, which sparked global outrage and led to calls for a reform of Australia’s Aboriginal heritage protection laws. The Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation expressed disappointment in Rio’s blast management plan and emphasized that any impact on cultural sites is unwelcome.

The blast on August 6 resulted in the fall of a Pilbara scrub tree and caused damage to a rock shelter that is estimated to have been inhabited for thousands of years. Rio Tinto, after a seven-week silence, apologized for the incident and claimed to have taken appropriate steps to inform relevant parties. However, lawmaker Warren Entsch, who led the parliamentary enquiry into the Juukan Gorge incident, criticized Rio for causing the damage and called for greater transparency.

Rio Tinto stated that it has implemented reforms since the Juukan Gorge incident, including changes to blast procedures, internal governance, and transparency. The reaction to the recent incident has been relatively muted compared to the outrage over Juukan Gorge. Morgan Stanley, a brokerage firm, expressed relief upon learning that Rio’s initial assessment indicated no structural damage or impacts to cultural materials.

The incident is occurring against the backdrop of Australia’s upcoming Indigenous Voice referendum, scheduled for October 14. This referendum aims to establish a panel that would advise parliament on issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. James Fitzgerald, legal counsel at the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, emphasized the need for Indigenous representation in the mining policy debate, citing the recent incident as a compelling example. While Rio Tinto and other major companies have expressed support for the Yes vote, support for the referendum has dipped as the vote approaches.

Some Indigenous supporters of the referendum fear that criticizing the recent incident may further erode backing for the referendum. This concern has contributed to a relatively muted reaction from traditional owners. Additionally, Western Australia is set to overturn its 2021 Aboriginal cultural heritage protection laws, which were introduced after the Juukan Gorge incident but repealed due to opposition from landowners.

The state department responsible for Aboriginal heritage protection stated that it is in contact with Rio Tinto but is not currently investigating the incident. The department believes that Aboriginal people are best positioned to assess the impact on their cultural heritage and will investigate if a complaint is filed by the Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation. The corporation has not yet lodged a complaint but reserves the right to do so once all the facts are established.

About News Team

Hi, I'm Alex Perez, an experienced writer with a focus on lifestyle and culture news. From food and fashion to travel and entertainment, I love exploring the latest trends and sharing my insights with readers. I also have a strong interest in world news and business, and enjoy covering breaking stories and events.

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