“I actually think that Rio needs to reconsider who sits on their board, and have people who actually have an understanding, and a deep understanding, of the Pilbara and Western Australia, preferably a deep understanding of the relationships they have with their Aboriginal groups.”
Rio Tinto is dual-listed on the London Stock Exchange and Australian Securities Exchange and has four Australians on its board, with the rest hailing from around the globe, including the UK, where chairman Simon Thompson is from. Its chief executive Jean-Sébastien Jacques was born in France.
Last week Mr Jacques was criticised during a parliamentary inquiry by former Rio Tinto insiders for transferring Indigenous relations to the group’s London-based external relations teams, which contributed to the destruction of a 46,000-year-old Aboriginal heritage site at Juukan Gorge.
Mr Wyatt criticised the Rio Tinto board for its lack of communication with the state government around Aboriginal heritage arrangements.
“The board has made no effort to engage with the state government at all around this and I suspect because the board is anxious around the Pilbara and that’s because they don’t understand it anymore,” he said.
Mr Wyatt also said he had reached out to Mr Jacques, who is in WA at the moment for a meeting the traditional owners of the Juukan Gorge, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people.
“I’ve noticed that reporting as well that he is in Perth, we’ve reached out, they haven’t sought a meeting with me but I’ve certainly reached out trying to get him and hopefully that can happen,” Mr Wyatt said.
A spokesman for Rio Tinto declined to comment, instead pointing to the board-led review of the Juukan blast which found the company’s heritage systems and oversight was lacking.
When the review was released, Mr Thompson said the company would implement new measures and governance to ensure it did not repeat what happened at Juukan Gorge, and would continue to rebuild trust with the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people.
“It is clear that no single individual or error was responsible for the destruction of the Juukan rock shelters, but there were numerous missed opportunities over almost a decade and the company failed to uphold one of Rio Tinto’s core values – respect for local communities and for their heritage,” he said.
“We are determined to learn, improve and rebuild trust across various internal and external partners.”
Hamish Hastie is WAtoday’s business reporter.