Mining giant BHP was aware of traditional owners’ concerns about works affecting sacred sites at one of its West Australian iron ore mines before it obtained approval to destroy them.
BHP executives on Thursday said the company received legal permission for the works at its $4.6 billion South Flank mine earlier this year, but had since halted plans that would disturb heritage sites in the area amid intense public backlash against Rio Tinto’s blasting of the 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge rock shelters in May.
The comments were made under questioning by a federal parliamentary inquiry launched in the wake of the Rio Tinto blast, which is examining the mining sector’s approach to cultural heritage. Rio Tinto’s decision to destroy the ancient rock shelters without traditional owners’ consent last week resulted in the resignation of chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques and two of his deputies, and has put the entire industry on notice.
Over recent months, BHP has told traditional owners it would not act on its existing approvals – known as Section 18 approvals – under the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act to affect sites until it had re-engaged with traditional owner representatives.