Rio Tinto boss Jakob Stausholm has offered to fly into WA to meet with Gumala Elders amid a multimillion dollar underpayment dispute which has dragged on for two years.
The dispute centres around settlement of a royalties underpayment case potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars related to Rio’s Yandicoogina mine in the Pilbara.
Gumala in 2020 returned a cheque from Rio Tinto worth $40m for underpayments associated with the 25-year-old deal between Traditional Owners and the miner.
An audit subsequently found up to $400m could be owed in back payments.
Rio Tinto has contested this and is rumoured to have instead offered about $150m, according to The Australian.
Mr Stausholm told investors at Rio Tinto’s annual general meeting on Thursday the situation was “regrettable”.
“It was a ground breaking agreement we made with the Gumala people 25 years ago, but of course times moves on and we need to (improve) that,” he said.
“From our perspective this is an absolute top priority to build and deepen the relationships.. with all the Traditional Owners in the Pilbara.
“We are doing everything we can to be able to rebuild this and get agreements in place.”
Mr Stausholm said Rio Tinto iron ore chief executive Simon Trott held regular meetings with Gumala to solve the matter.
Almost two years on from the Juukan Gorge disaster, the AGM opened with a video championing Rio Tinto’s efforts to boost Indigenous participation – including the miner’s new co-design process – alongside a focus on tackling climate change.
In his opening address, Mr Stausholm said that co-design process had led the miner to fund an Indigenous-led study into Yinhawangka’s Yirra rock shelter at Rio’s Channar operations.