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Miners lash Aboriginal heritage inquiry as Rio boss breaks his silence

WA’s peak mining body has warned the inquiry would dilute the existing reforms happening at state level.

The new state legislation was expected to replace the current process where companies sought permission from the Aboriginal Affairs Minister to destroy or alter Aboriginal heritage sites with an agreement making process between the miner and Aboriginal group.

Chamber of Minerals and Energy of WA chief executive Paul Everingham said the state government’s approach was a sensible one and had support from the industry.

“Efforts must be directed to this important WA state reform and not diluted by a far-removed inquiry,” he said.

Debate over the preservation of Aboriginal heritage sites has raged since the Rio Tinto Juukan Gorge blast.

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On Tuesday protesters assembled outside Rio Tinto’s Perth office to call for the resignation of its iron ore boss Chris Salisbury as well as state and federal Aboriginal Affairs ministers Ben Wyatt and Ken Wyatt.

On Thursday outrage was sparked again after it was revealed BHP had received permission to destroy at least 40 sites at its South Flank mine.

Later in the day, the miner announced it would put the brakes on work around those areas and reconsult with the traditional owners, the Banjima people.

WA Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt said any potential federal inquiry was a matter for the federal government and the WA government’s focus was to implement change through its reform process.

“We came to office in 2017 with a commitment to modernise Western Australia’s Aboriginal heritage protection laws. Previous governments of both persuasions have failed in their attempts to change this act,” he said.

The site at Juukan Gorge before it was legally detonated by Rio Tinto.

The site at Juukan Gorge before it was legally detonated by Rio Tinto.

“We have worked quickly to progress the bill and undertaken extensive consultation with Aboriginal people. The bill is now in its final stages of drafting and will be released soon for final consultation.”

Greens senator Rachel Siewert expressed her disappointment the environment and communications committee was not tasked with the inquiry, which was limited to sites in Australia’s north.

“Northern Australia is not the only part of the country with weak Aboriginal heritage laws and where First Nations heritage is being destroyed with little oversight,” she said.

“I am sure there are many other sites all across Australia that are at risk of being destroyed not located in northern Australia.”

The committee was expected to table its report by September 30.

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