Mining giant BHP has been given government approval to destroy up to 40 indigenous heritage sites, Australia’s Aboriginal Affairs Minister said Thursday, just days after Rio Tinto sparked outrage by damaging ancient rock shelters nearby.
Indigenous traditional owners were left “deeply troubled and saddened” after mining firm Rio Tinto destroyed a 46,000-year-old site last month to expand an iron ore mine, following approval from the Western Australian state government.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt said he approved BHP’s application to destroy up to 40 Aboriginal sites in remote Pilbara on May 29 — just three days after the Rio blasts were revealed.
BHP applied to destroy the sites last October as part of the South Flank iron ore mine’s Aus$4.5 billion ($3.11 billion) expansion.
The mine is situated on the traditional land of the Banjima people, who signed a land-use agreement in 2015 that Wyatt said included financial benefits and protected 72 culturally significant sites.
The Banjima did not file an official objection to BHP’s latest application, but under Western Australian law they are essentially excluded from the government approvals process after signing such land-use agreements.
Wyatt, who is indigenous, said he wanted to see impacts to Aboriginal cultural sites “limited to the practical extent possible”.
He said he was reforming heritage legislation so miners would need to negotiate directly with traditional owners over impacts to sites in the future.