Rio Tinto’s chief executive is set to front a Senate inquiry amid continued fallout from the mining giant’s destruction of ancient sites in Western Australia.
Jean-Sebastien Jacques will be one of several Rio executives grilled by members of the Northern Australia Committee chaired by coalition MP Warren Entsch.
State and federal government representatives will also give evidence.
Rio sparked international outrage in May when it blew up the 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge rock shelters on Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) country in the Pilbara region.
The company had secured consent under WA’s Aboriginal Heritage Act but has since apologised to the traditional owners, admitting it had overlooked new information that came to light about the sites’ cultural significance.
Mr Entsch said it was important to find out what went wrong to prevent it from happening again.
“We will be holding extensive consultations with Indigenous stakeholders during the course of the inquiry, and expect to visit the affected sites,” he said.
“To open the inquiry, however, we will be talking to the government and industry stakeholders most concerned with what happened at Juukan Gorge.”
The Australian Archaeological Association said the destruction “sadly came as no surprise” to heritage professionals.
“Many more recent Aboriginal sites than those at Juukan Gorge are routinely destroyed with inadequate or no further investigation,” its submission to the inquiry said.
Aboriginal people have no right of appeal under the existing approvals process.
The WA government is developing new laws which it says will afford Aboriginal people and land users the same appeal rights.
It will also provide an avenue for “contingency arrangements” where new information about heritage sites arises.
Rio has conceded the Juukan Gorge blast should never have gone ahead given the significant discoveries made after approval had already been granted.
Some 7000 artefacts were uncovered including grinding stones, a bone sharpened into a tool and 4000-year-old braided hair.
The company has also faced heat from investors.
Industry super fund HESTA said it was committed to reconciliation and urged the inquiry to scrutinise Rio’s consultation with traditional owners.