Rio Tinto chairman Simon Thompson to resign over the Juukan Gorge disaster

When Rio Tinto destroyed Juukan Gorge it put profits ahead of 40,000 years of Aboriginal heritage.

When Rio Tinto destroyed Juukan Gorge it put profits ahead of 40,000 years of Aboriginal heritage. Photo: Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura Aboriginal Corporation

The chairman and a board director of Rio Tinto will resign over the Juukan Gorge caves destruction.

The big miner announced chairman Simon Thompson and non-executive director Michael L’Estrange, a former top public servant, would step down ahead of next year’s annual shareholder meeting.

Last year, Rio destroyed two 46,000-year-old caves in the Pilbara region against the wishes of the traditional owners, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP).

Former chief executive Jean-Sebastian Jacques and two top executives were forced to resign last year over the scandal.

Investors had been calling for both Mr Thompson and Mr L’Estrange to step down.

The destruction of the sites last May were described as “wrong” at the time by Mr Thompson.

However, Mr Thompson said that as chairman he was ultimately accountable for the destruction of the sacred Aboriginal site.

The chief executive of the National Native Title Council, Jamie Lowe, said the resignations should have come sooner.

“We think the cultural shift within Rio Tinto needed to happen immediately, it’s too bad it’s taken some eight months,” Mr Lowe said.

Mr L’Estrange led a widely discredited internal review of the Juukan incident.

The failures of the internal review have led to the resignations announced on Wednesday, Mr Lowe told ABC News.

“I think they tried to cover it up with the internal review,” Mr Lowe said.

“Our advice to Rio since the outset is that they needed to open this up with some transparency.

“They ignored our advice from the outset. The result is what we see now with both of them having to step down from the board.”

Many investors were also unhappy that Rio appointed former chief financial officer Jakob Stausholm, an internal candidate, late last year to replace former boss Mr Jacques instead of an outsider.

The cave sites were among the oldest in Australia and showed evidence of continuous human habitation for 46,000 years.

A report in 2014 by archaeologist Michael Slack found one of the caves to be rare in Australia.

“The site was found to contain a cultural sequence spanning over 40,000 years, with a high frequency of flaked stone artefacts, rare abundance of faunal remains, unique stone tools, preserved human hair and with sediment containing a pollen record charting thousands of years of environmental changes,” Dr Slack wrote.


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