Industry analysts and investors have warned WA’s heightened focus on the engagement between mining companies and Indigenous groups in the wake the disaster could result in project delays and reduced exports from the region.
As he released Rio’s full year financial results from Perth on Wednesday, Mr Stausholm said he was optimistic new developments would still progress.
“Obviously I cannot give you full clarity because I don’t know exactly what will be the outcome of the new legislation in WA but I am heartened to see that with today’s results that we were able to produce the iron ore we were aiming for and we are confirming targets for this year that even indicate at least at the mid-point a growth in iron ore,” he said.
Mr Stausholm said construction of the company’s new $2.6 billion Gudai-Darri iron ore mine was on schedule, with first production targeted for 2022, and studies were already under way on the project’s planned second phase, which could increase the mine’s annual production capacity from 43 million tonnes to as much as 70 million tonnes.
“We are learning tough lessons around how to work effectively from our side in partnership with the traditional owners and it will require work, but it doesn’t mean we can’t find developments for mutual benefit and therefore I remain optimistic despite the challenges going through these processes that we can continue to develop our iron ore business,” he said.
Mr Stausholm, who was appointed chief executive in December, visited the Pilbara earlier this week to meet with traditional owners and described the trip as “very difficult and emotional”.
“I witnessed first hand the pain we have inflicted,” he said. “It was a confronting experience and has had a profound impact on me.”
While Rio has taken a number of steps to begin reparations for the blasting of the Gorge, Mr Stausholm said discussions around financial compensation had not yet started, with the focus currently on rebuilding the relationship between the company and the community.
He was not willing to place a timeline on any agreement between the groups, saying “there is no definition of rationality here, things have to go to the speed that both parties are comfortable about”.