Former Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett has called for a royal commission into the destruction of the Juukan Gorge caves, despite an ongoing Senate Committee inquiry.
Barnett said the cave blasts were a failure of both Rio Tinto and successive governments to protect Aboriginal cultural sites. He said the inquiry has been “inadequate” and that the issue needs to be treated more seriously.
“Everyone is going to suffer some embarrassment here, but we suffer huge embarrassment for the state and the mining industry if we don’t address this and address it in a proper way and be seen to be doing so,” the former Premier said.
Barnett said the matter should be investigated independent from government and “in a judicial format”.
WA Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Ben Wyatt, has hit back, saying calls for a royal commission are “premature”.
“The Liberal-National Government, led by Colin Barnett, approved [the Juukan Gorge caves’] destruction and Rio Tinto acted on that approval when it should not have done so,” he said in a statement.
Despite pointing to the failings of the Barnett-led Liberal-National Government, Minister Wyatt neglected to mention the controversial Marandoo Act 1992 (WA)—that exempted Rio Tinto from the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (WA)—was approved by a Labor Government led by Carmen Lawrence.
While government and industry grapple with the aftermath of the Juukan Gorge blasts, Native Title Representative Body, Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation, remains silent on their role in allowing a deal that prevented Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura peoples from objecting to Section 18 applications by Rio Tinto.
By Hannah Cross