Yawuru leader Peter Yu expects there will be plenty of tension between Rio Tinto and the team he has been chosen to lead, tension he hopes will be constructive in re-building trust for the miner.
Mr Yu was recently appointed as chairman of Rio Tinto’s new Australian Advisory Group, a role he believes presents both an opportunity and a challenge for its members.
Hailing from Broome in the Kimberley, Mr Yu has more 35 years’ experience in Indigenous development and advocacy at regional, state, national and international level.
He was a key negotiator on behalf of the Yawuru native title holders with the West Australian government and Broome shire over the 2010 Yawuru native title agreement.
Mr Yu was executive director of the Kimberley Land Council during the 1990s and part of the national leadership group negotiating the Federal Government’s response to the 1992 Mabo High Court judgement on native title.
He said the advisory group was still in its very early days, having had one meeting to date.
“The key objective will be to help shape, influence and challenge Rio Tinto in respect to those critical issues that are impacting on the Australia community,” Mr Yu said.
“Obviously, this has arisen as a result of Juukan Gorge and the commitment Rio made to address those issues.
“It is a critical step in terms of its standing and operations in Australia, and internationally.”
Mr Yu said the group would not be shy to interrogate transparently and robustly the culture of the company.
Working directly with Rio Tinto’s sustainability committee chaired by Megan Clark, the advisory group will provide shape the relationship with Australian stakeholders and address ongoing issues with trust and respect.
Mr Yu said it was important to have a “healthy level of constructive tension” between the AAG and Rio Tinto.
He also revealed the invite from Rio Tinto to lead the group took him by surprise.
“But if there is an opportunity to make change and contribute to this in a constructive way, that’s an exciting opportunity, as challenging as it might be,” Mr Yu said.
“I don’t think in anyone’s imagination it is an easy task – there are significant community concerns out there.
“It is a monolith of a global enterprise and it is going to take a lot of endeavour and effort looking at the cultural framework and the operational framework.”
Mr Yu said the AAG was strengthened by having a diverse membership including Michelle Deshong, Nyadol Nyuon, Yarlalu Thomas, Djawa Yunupingu, Cris Parker, and Shona Reid.
“We are not the usual suspects, so to speak,” he said.
“We don’t bring any baggage to this role – a clearly and strongly independent view to our role and relationship with Rio in the conduct of our responsibilities.
“This is very important in terms of the integrity of what we do.”
Mr Yu said the presence of former West Australian treasurer Ben Wyatt on the board was “a good start” for Indigenous representation.