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Traditional Owners want Sandfire CEO sacked, restitution after artefacts destroyed

David Prestipino -

Traditional Owners of Indigenous cultural sites in the Mid West that were destroyed by a copper miner but not reported for five years have called for restitution over the incident.

Yugunga-Nya Traditional Owners on Monday urged Sandfire Resources to publicly release reports into the incident and offer "meaningful and tangible" benefits to atone for the damage caused.

It also praised WA Premier Roger Cook's call on Friday for the miner to be investigated after it apologised for "disturbing the artefact scatter" in an ASX announcement on Thursday.

Yugunga-Nya Elder and Native Title holder Andrew Gentle Snr said Traditional Owners also believe the board should oust Sandfire chief executive, Brendan Harris, who took charge of the miner last April and admitted last week he was informed of the issue four months later.

"We waited three weeks for a letter to answer our questions about their internal investigation and, when it arrived, there was nothing," Mr Gentle Snr said.

"The CEO is out of his depth and I don't think he knows what is going on in Sandfire."

The Yugunga-Nya statement said Traditional Owners finally received an apology from Mr Harris on Friday evening, after intervention by the government, but the miner indicated it would not provide compensation.

"If I destroyed something of yours that is important and valuable to you, you would want to be compensated," Mr Gentle Snr said.

"I would have thought that the days of willy-nilly destruction of Aboriginal sites are over by now.

"If something of value is destroyed, compensation should be paid.

"Yugunga-Nya calls on Sandfire to offer meaningful and tangible benefits commensurate with the damage caused and illustrative of Sandfire's sorrow for the hurt it has caused."

Yugunga-Nya urged the Sandfire board - Jenn Morris, Robert Edwards, Sally Martin, Sally Langer, Paul Harvey and chair John Richards - to show leadership, take ownership and engage in open and meaningful conversation with Yugunga-Nya Traditional Owners.

"Mr Harris fails to understand the seriousness of the hurt that Sandfire has caused by its behaviour," a Yugunga-Nya statement said.

"His offer to address the destruction amounts to nothing more than business as usual in the mining industry; Mr Harris' mindset is business as usual."

The Traditional Owners claim Sandfire suggested Yugunga-Nya may want to "salvage" their artefacts by removing the mountains of earth on top of the sites, which Sandfire failed to fence off in 2016.

Mr Harris also offered Yugunga-Nya businesses the opportunity to fence off the remaining heritage sites at DeGrussa, where the incident occurred.

"These suggested actions are merely the implementation of past recommendations contained in heritage reports," the statement said.

Australia's management of Aboriginal heritage is being closely watched after Rio Tinto destroyed historically significant rock shelters in 2020.

WA, which had strengthened its cultural heritage protection in response to the incident, agreed to repeal them earlier this year after an outcry from farmers and miners.

Sandfire did not immediately respond to a request for comment but last week said its internal investigation was complicated by staff departures after the mine, which has been exhausted, was placed on care and maintenance.


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