Australia pension giant pressing Rio over heritage site blasts

Many of Rio’s operations are on or near land that is sacred to Indigenous communities. Image from Rio Tinto Group.

Australia’s biggest pension fund said it is pressing Rio Tinto Group on the destruction of a 40,000-year-old Aboriginal heritage site, though isn’t yet contemplating selling down its stake in the world’s second-biggest miner.

“I don’t think we’re at that position yet, the company has been listening,” Mark Delaney, chief investment officer of AustralianSuper Pty. told Bloomberg’s ‘Inside Track’ webinar on Tuesday. “They have been quite approachable about the issue and we are working through the issue with them.”

The fund, which holds about A$165 billion ($115 billion) of assets, has had two or three meetings with members of Rio’s senior management and board on the issue, Delaney said. It’s also working with other mining companies to ensure they don’t take similar action that damages or destroys heritage sites.

“We’ll be very keen to make sure there aren’t issues like this re-occurring in Rio or in other companies,” Delaney said.

Rio is scrambling to address the fallout from a decision last month to carry out explosions in the Juukan Gorge area of Western Australia’s Pilbara region to facilitate mining at its Brockman 4 operation. The blasts destroyed rock-shelters that may have been occupied by humans as long as 46,000 years ago.

Rio, which is carrying out its own review of its heritage approach, has apologized to the traditional landowners

Investors have held meetings with Rio’s Chairman Simon Thompson and executives to raise questions over the producer’s actions, and Australia’s First State Super, which holds about $69 billion in assets, last week removed the company from a socially responsible portfolio option. A parliamentary committee is also scheduled to report to Australia’s Senate by Sept. 30 on Rio’s decision-making.

Rio, which is carrying out its own review of its heritage approach, has apologized to the traditional landowners, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura Aboriginal Corp., though previously also said concerns about the planned blasts had not arisen through community engagements over many years.

The explosions were authorized by Western Australia’s government under a system used to rule on situations where impacts on Aboriginal sites are deemed unavoidable.

(By David Stringer, Matthew Burgess and Adam Haigh)

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