The Senate inquiry into the destruction of Juukan Gorge has revealed Yinhawangka Traditional Owners were “rushed” into an agreement with Rio Tinto negotiated by Native Title representative body, Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation (YMAC).
Monday’s public hearing saw Yinhawangka Aboriginal Corporation (YAC) give evidence to the inquiry, where YAC Chair Halloway Smirke told the committee a participation agreement was signed by YMAC on behalf of Yinhawangka Traditional Owners in 2013.
Smirke said Traditional Owners were not given enough opportunity to discuss the participation agreement. He also said they believed WA’s heritage laws would protect their cultural sites.
“The people were aware of what they were signing, it was just a rushed process,” he said.
YMAC also negotiated the now infamous deal between Rio Tinto and the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) peoples.
Yinhawangka Country hosts part of the resource-rich Hamersley Range, where some of the world’s largest iron ore deposits reside.
YAC’s archaeologist, Dr Anna Fagan, said at least 124 cultural sites significant to the Yinhawangka people would be destroyed should Rio Tinto’s planned expansion of their Western Range project go ahead.
In their submission, YAC said all of the Section 18 approvals Rio Tinto has applied for under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (WA) have been approved.
The submission also highlighted what YAC CEO, Grant Bussell, believes is the “self-evident” conflict of interest of WA Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Treasurer, Ben Wyatt.
“It seems to me to be self-evident that the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in Western Australia, is conflicted, in that he is also the Treasurer and the Minister of Finance,” said Bussell.
“The Western Australian Treasury, of course, benefits from every additional tonne of iron ore that is exported from the State.”
NIT contacted YMAC for comment but was told the representative body was “working on information” which will be available via their website.
By Hannah Cross