Criticism is mounting against former Treasurer Ben Wyatt after revelations on Friday he will be the newest director on the Rio Tinto board come September.
Mr Wyatt has been in the firing line of Aboriginal leaders since the news of his appointment broke, with Labor Senator Pat Dodson calling the move “poor judgement” and Greens Senate candidate Dorinda Cox calling it “appalling”.
“It’s extremely concerning that the former Treasurer has so quickly moved to a senior role in an industry that consistently destroys First Nations heritage values,” Ms Cox said.
Now Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation, who represents Eastern Guruma Traditional Owners holding Native Title over Country containing nearly 40 per cent of Rio Tinto’s Australian iron ore mines, have said they are disappointed in the decision after their past dealings with the former Aboriginal Affairs Minister.
WGAC has slammed Mr Wyatt’s tenure as Aboriginal Affairs Minister, saying in a statement that in the last four-year term of government, Mr Wyatt approved 143 Section 18 applications which impacted cultural heritage sites.
“This included the infamous 2017 Spear Hill decision where the [former] Minister prematurely decided to approve the destruction of 50 sites in a sacred area without considering information from the Traditional Owners,” WGAC said.
WGAC sought protection of the area under Commonwealth law and appealed Mr Wyatt’s decision to the Supreme Court. They have also included the Spear Hill decision in their submissions to the Juukan Gorge inquiry as evidence of significant cultural heritage destruction under WA legislation.
“During his four years as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Wyatt never once met with any of the Wintawari Elders or Board. This is despite invitations being extended by the Board as far back as December 2019.”
Of the six mines Rio Tinto operates on Eastern Guruma Country, the miner only pays royalties on three and refuses to renegotiate any new royalty agreements with Traditional Owners.
WGAC Chair Glen Camille says he does not see success in Mr Wyatt’s appointment to the board.
“Unfortunately, our engagement with Mr Wyatt has not been positive and we do not see him helping to restore Rio’s reputation with Indigenous stakeholders,” he said.
By Hannah Cross