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Miner lambasted over destruction of Indigenous artefacts

David Prestipino -

Sandfire Resources will be investigated after confirming it had destroyed Aboriginal artefacts over several years at the Monty deposit within its DeGrussa operations, 150km north of Meekatharra.

It is understood the copper miner became aware of the destruction last October but failed to report the incident to the state government, drawing the ire of WA Premier Roger Cook on Friday, who asked WA Aboriginal Affairs minister Tony Buti to investigate.

"Sandfire are responsible for egregious actions in relation to the Aboriginal cultural heritage on the land they are operating," Mr Cook said.

"I've asked [Minister Buti] to investigate, and where appropriate, to prosecute for what appears to be a very unfortunate oversight by that company."

Traditional Owners, the Yugunga-Nya people in 2016 completed a heritage survey that identified two sites at DeGrussa with more than 90 designated artefacts.

"We want the government to bring Sandfire to court for destroying our heritage," Yugunga-Nya Elder Andrew Gentle Sr said. "Their actions show they have no respect for Aboriginal people or Aboriginal heritage."

"Other miners may now consider doing the same thing as Sandfire... This cannot be allowed to happen in the 21st century," he added.

In a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange on Thursday, Sandfire Resources chief executive Brendan Harris, who assumed the role in April, said he was "extremely sorry" for the destruction and failure to report it.

The company had now confirmed the disturbance of unregistered, low-density artefact scatter at its offline DeGrussa operation to the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage.

"The review included an assessment of available geospatial data, which indicated the disturbance primarily occurred in 2017 and 2018 as a result of a series of process failures during the construction of the Monty satellite mine," Sandfire said.

Mr Harris said Sandfire was a values-based organisation and regretted Aboriginal artefacts had been destroyed during construction and mining activities.

"Our local communities are of critical importance to us and we will work hard to rebuild our relationship with the traditional owners," he said.

West Perth-based Sandfire has a market value of approximately $2.8 billion with operations in Spain and Botswana, after exhausting copper supply at DeGrussa.

It could face fines over $100,000 under WA's Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 for disturbing protected sites without a permit, and further scrutiny from market regulators regarding disclosure obligations.

It may also face scrutiny from market regulators regarding its continuous disclosure obligations.

Mr Harris said the company prides itself on being a values-based organisation.

"We are extremely sorry to have disturbed artefact scatter within the Monty mining lease during construction and mining activities," he said.

"Our local communities are of critical importance to us and we will work hard to rebuild our relationship with the traditional owners."

The DPLH confirmed it had been notified of the possible impact to an Aboriginal heritage site and would liaise with Sandfire and Yugunga-Nia representatives before taking any action.

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