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Rio executives spared axe over caves blast

Rio Tinto has spared its chief executive and other senior executives from losing their jobs over the destruction of ancient sites in Western Australia and instead cut their bonuses.

Rio sparked international outrage in May when it blew up the 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge rock shelters on Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) country in the Pilbara region.

The company had secured consent under WA’s Aboriginal Heritage Act but has since apologised to the traditional owners, admitting it had overlooked significant new information about the cultural significance of the sites.

Evidence given to a Senate inquiry revealed the blast allowed Rio to extract an additional $US135 million ($A188 million) worth of high-grade iron ore.

Traditional owners were not told one of the world’s biggest iron ore miners had examined three other options for expanding its Brockman 4 mine, which did not involve damaging the rock shelters.

A Rio board review, the findings of which were published on Monday, has determined there was “no single root cause or error that directly resulted in the destruction of the rock shelters”.

“It was the result of a series of decisions, actions and omissions over an extended period of time,” the company said.

Chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques will be penalised almost $A5 million in 2020, including the loss of a 1.7 million pounds ($A3.1 million) short-term bonus and a reduction in his long-term incentive plan.

Mr Jacques’ total remuneration in 2019 was 5.79 million pounds ($A10.58 million), including fixed pay and bonuses.

Perth-based iron ore chief executive Chris Salisbury and corporate relations executive Simon Niven will also lose their short-term bonuses.

Rio said it would provide more details on the cuts when its 2020 remuneration report is released.

The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility labelled the response “highly disappointing” and renewed calls for Mr Jacques and other executives to depart.

“This is an appalling indictment of how Rio Tinto truly values cultural heritage,” strategy lead James Fitzgerald said in a statement.

“Tens of thousands of years of cultural significance get blown up and all that goes to show for it is $A7 million of lost remuneration (for all three executives).”

The PKKP are yet to respond to the Rio board review but spokesman Burchall Hayes earlier this month said traditional owners were deeply hurt and felt their heritage had been belittled.

“In particular, we regret the lack of value being attached to the land we had entrusted to them, beyond short term financial gains,” he said.

Premier Mark McGowan said he hopes a looming overhaul of WA’s heritage laws will help to resolve issues between land users and traditional owners.

Federal MPs are expected to visit PKKP country next month as the parliamentary inquiry continues.

Further evidence will be heard via conference call on Friday, with noted Indigenous academic Marcia Langton among the witnesses.

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