Rio Tinto faces ‘biggest test’ since Juukan Gorge

Marion Rae |

Rio Tinto has also ruled out new development of uranium at Jabiluka in the Northern Territory.
Rio Tinto has also ruled out new development of uranium at Jabiluka in the Northern Territory.

A passionate plea to stop draining the “lifeblood” of country to provide water for mining towns has been put to the Rio Tinto board.

Robe River Kuruma woman Leanne Evans told an annual general meeting in Brisbane on Thursday Rio Tinto was pumping millions of litres of water which she said was destroying her part of the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

Under a water supply scheme, she said pumps took between six to eight gigalitres from the Bungaroo aquifer each year to help supply water to five Pilbara coastal towns almost 200km away.

“Robe River Kuruma people are named after our lifeblood, the Robe River or what we call Jajiwurra,” she said.

“The water you are pumping from the Bungaroo is killing our country. 

“It is dry – there is no water where there always used to be water.”

Elsewhere, communities around the former Panguna mine on Bougainville are calling for Rio Tinto to commit to remediation so people can live safely on their land again and have clean drinking water.

The Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu
Rio Tinto has also ruled out new development of uranium at Jabiluka in the Northern Territory. (HANDOUT/Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation)

“Children need to be able to walk to school without having to wade through treacherous areas of quicksand created by the mine waste,” Human Rights Law Centre legal director Keren Adams said.

“This is what remediation means in real terms for people living with these impacts.”

Ms Adams said Panguna was the biggest test of Rio Tinto’s environmental and social credentials since the company’s destruction of the 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge rock shelters in 2020.

Meanwhile, Rio Tinto ruled out new development of uranium at Jabiluka in the Northern Territory, where the clean-up of the old Ranger mine is set to exceed $US2.4 billion ($A3.7 billion).

“We support the Mirarr people in their strong opposition to the development of Jabiluka and our focus is only on rehabilitation,” chairman Dominic Barton said.

Chief executive Jakob Stausholm said society would judge progress on new ways of developing resources.

“If we keep listening, stick to our values and find better ways to work together and build trust, I believe we can be a miner that people, communities, governments and customers choose to work with,” he said.

Iron ore mining
Rio Tinto, Australia’s biggest iron ore producer, has taken a $US1.5 billion hit from lower prices. (Kim Christian/AAP PHOTOS)

Rio Tinto was confident about its expanding copper footprint as rival BHP takes a run at becoming the world’s largest producer to wire up the energy transition.

But Mr Barton declined to comment on whether Rio Tinto would compete with BHP for Anglo American, after Australia’s mining heavyweight made an opening salvo in April that was rebuffed.

Just over a year since underground production started at Oyu Tolgoi in Mongolia, Rio Tinto said it was on course to become one of the leading suppliers of copper.

The deposit lies at a depth of 1.3km below the Gobi desert and is connected by 200km of tunnels.

“With our Oyu Tolgoi underground going from strength to strength, I believe we can repeat this success at the Simandou project in Guinea where we are at an earlier phase,” Mr Stausholm said.

He said Simandou, where Rio Tinto was building an iron ore mine and 600km of rail, could be a “country-maker” for Africa’s Guinea and provide high-grade raw material needed for green steel.

But Rio Tinto has taken a $US1.5 billion ($A2.3 billion) hit from lower prices and said it “continued to stabilise operations”, particularly the iron ore business.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers has warned of a $9 billion blow to the May 14 budget from lower iron ore prices since Australia is the world’s top exporter.