Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation’s (WGAC) mining scorecard will be even more important for Rio Tinto after recent revelations the miner signed off on the dumping of Eastern Guruma cultural heritage material at the Darwin rubbish tip in the 1990s.

The corporation announced plans in March to publish a scorecard to rate miners on their compliance with environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards.

WGAC developed the scorecard following the destruction of Juukan Gorge in 2020 and hopes the scorecard will underscore the importance of ESG standards to investors and the broader public.

The scorecard will examine five elements:

  • Heritage surveys
  • Regulatory compliance
  • Caring for the environment
  • Relationships with Native Title Holders
  • ESG reporting.

WGAC will assess companies’ performances over the year based on a 34-question survey, then publish the results and provide feedback.

When the corporation announced the scorecard earlier this year, the biggest miners on Eastern Guruma Country, FMG and Rio Tinto, welcomed the initiative.

The element concerning ‘relationships with Native Title Holders’ will be particularly important for Rio Tinto, given Eastern Guruma Traditional Owners decided to cut all communications with the miner for the next three months after it was discovered Rio Tinto disposed of heritage material from its Marandoo mine.

This is not the first time WGAC has raised concerns about its relationship with Rio Tinto.

In 2016, WGAC attended an event in Tom Price celebrating 50 years of Rio Tinto in the Pilbara. Eastern Guruma Elders at the event read a statement on behalf of Traditional Owners outlining their concerns.

The Elders highlighted of the six mines Rio Tinto operates on Eastern Guruma Country, the miner only pays royalties on three. They spoke of Traditional Owners being forced off Country due to mining or unemployment and said the opportunities for Eastern Guruma people to work on Country were limited.

“Unfortunately, we cannot stand here today and welcome you to Country when our people are worse off than when no mining existed,” the Elders said.

“We are not being paid compensation for three Rio Tinto mines operating on our Country. We are not being employed. We are not getting the contracts and business opportunities that the mining industry prides itself on. Outcomes for the Eastern Guruma people have been poor.

“We are not being respected for our decisions to protect Country. Rio always wants us to consent to the destruction of our Country for mining so that Rio can make more money for its shareholders.”

The Elders said, as Traditional Owners, that the Eastern Guruma people wanted to “challenge Rio to do the right thing, to adopt a real social licence”.

The power is in Rio’s hands to ensure justice, to create jobs, to create business opportunities, to enable us to create a good future for our young people full of opportunity and choice. You have the power to make a real difference to our people.”

Five years later, WGAC says the miner has not bettered its relationship with Traditional Owners.

The corporation is instead keeping a close eye on the miner’s promise to modernise its agreements with Pilbara Traditional Owners and says it will publicly hold Rio Tinto to account should it not deliver on its promise.

By Hannah Cross