Rio Tinto appoints first Aboriginal director after sacred cave explosion

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Rio Tinto appointed an Aboriginal Australian to the board of directors for the first time as the mining group is struggling to deal with the consequences of the destruction of the 46,000-year-old Aboriginal sacred site last year.

The Anglo-Australian company said on Friday that Ben Wyatt, the former Minister of Finance of the Western Australian Government and cousin of the country’s Minister of Indigenous Affairs, will join the board of directors on September 1, bringing public policy, supervision and Trade experience. But his appointment has raised concerns about possible conflicts of interest.

After Rio de Janeiro bombed the Juukan Gorge Rock Refuge in the Pilbara region of Western Australia last year, it is trying to restore its international reputation, angering an investor Strongly opposed And the resignation of management and the board of directors.

Rio Tinto chairman Simon Thompson said that Wyatt’s connection with the Pilbara family will greatly increase the depth of knowledge of the board because the company hopes to strengthen its relationship with indigenous people.

Australia generates nearly 90% of Rio Tinto’s profits, mainly due to its large iron ore business in the Pilbara region.

Wyatt accused Rio of losing contact with indigenous communities when he was the state treasurer, and issued a draft bill to modernize the Indigenous Cultural Heritage Act, which aims to protect the indigenous heritage sites of Western Australia.

“Simultaneously [Rio] You might think that they are a global company, they are a Pilbara company with overseas interests,” he said at the time. “One of the biggest risks to their operations is that they don’t seem to have significant [Pilbara] Being a company. I am not referring to the local executives and local teams here, but the board of directors. “

Rio Tinto was caught in a scandal after blowing up the Juukan Gorge rock bunker to expand its iron ore project in May of last year © HANDOUT/PKKP Aboriginal Corporation/AFP via Getty Images

Wyatt said on Friday that he was deeply saddened and disappointed by Rio Tinto’s performance. Destruction of the site But it is believed that the group is committed to changing its approach to cultural heritage issues and restoring its reputation.

“I respect Australia’s resource industry very much. I have been deeply impressed by Rio Tinto’s professionalism and commitment for a long time,” he said.

Wyatt’s appointment is a milestone for Aboriginal Australians, who are underrepresented on the board of directors of listed companies. But this has caused some shareholder interest groups to worry about potential conflicts of interest. Wyatt resigned as state treasurer in March and joined the board of directors of natural gas producer Woodside Petroleum earlier this week.

“Mr. Wyatt’s expertise and experience make him a very attractive candidate for the two boards,” said Brin O’Brien, executive director of the Australian Corporate Responsibility Centre.

“However, given that Woodside and Rio Tinto face huge challenges in bringing their Western Australian operations into compliance with community expectations and ESG standards, it is fair to worry about their political influence.”

“From this perspective, the appointment of a Western Australian government minister who has recently retired and is responsible for key investment portfolios should draw attention to the revolving door between government and industry,” O’Brien added.

The appointment comes as indigenous groups lobbied to strengthen Wyatt’s proposed changes to the Indigenous Cultural Heritage Act.

The Kimberley Land Commission, which represents the indigenous peoples, said last week that the draft law was “seriously flawed” and warned the state government not to succumb to the interests of mining groups.

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