Rio Tinto

Many community-based projects in Australia are testimony to Rio Tinto’s reconciliation policy, which commits the company to achieving growth in Indigenous opportunity at its mine sites.

The implementation of the various programs tends to bring about reconciliation as a natural result of the projects themselves, while other policies contribute indirectly to reconciliation.

Land use agreements and other joint venture initiatives have contributed significantly to the reconciliation process in Australia in recent years. For example, the Walgundu Agreement in 1996 opened up exploration opportunities in Arnhem Land on Aboriginal freehold land, with many benefits to the communities concerned, and set the agenda for other agreements made by the company.

The Yandicoogina (Hamersley Iron Ore) project in the Pilbara in WA is probably the most significant in terms of new outcomes and changed relationships with the three language groups of the region (Innawonga, Bunjima and Niapaili). The issues raised in that project included the protection of significant and sacred sites and the treatment of country and consideration of heritage matters.

As part of the agreement, there are several Aboriginal small businesses now operating, including Gumala Enterprises, an earthmoving and contracting business, and a preferred contractor to Hamersley Iron, complemented by Gumala Hire, which is a joint venture with Cockburn Wreckair. Another is P&O Services, which provides catering services to the Yandi mine site.

Hamersley has provided a range of community services in the Pilbara, including art sponsorships and student scholarships. The next logical step is expanded direct employment into the various mine workforces, and a recognition that employment can be in a number of areas.

Cultural awareness programs sponsored by Rio Tinto have become so popular that they are now an emerging industry. Historically, most mine sites had a workforce which was not appreciative of the country in which they were working and, in line with Rio Tinto’s policy, it was appropriate to work more closely with the local Aboriginal groups to identify issues they were happy to discuss and share.

The Gidja program (Warmun, supported by Argyle Diamonds), the Ngurra Wangkamagyi education project in Roebourne, and the Wanu Wanu cross-cultural company at Tom Price are all examples of direct reconciliation at work at the grass roots level.

Several other projects are under way.

  • The Hunter Valley: a memorandum of understanding has been signed with local Aboriginal groups as to how traditional owners and historical residents will work with Coal and Allied.
  • Central Queensland: Pacific Coal has signed an historic agreement with Wirri Yuwi Burra communities at Hail Creek, an agreement based on relationship rather than the native title process. Cultural awareness courses for all senior employees are implemented through the University of Queensland.
  • Weipa (far north Queensland): an agreement between Comalco and the local community is expected to be concluded in 2000, and cultural awareness, employment and business enterprise programs are already in place with the local Arukun, Mapoon and Napranum communities.
  • Arnhem Land: dust mitigation at Ngukkurr is delivering major health benefits to the local community by implementing a major greening program, recently the recipient of a National Telstra Landcare Award.
  • Central Australia: the Centre for Appropriate Technology (CAT) in Alice Springs has signed a joint venture agreement with Rio Tinto to assist remote communities in the application of technology.
  • Top End: the Rio Tinto Aboriginal Foundation is a strong supporter of Kormilda College in Darwin, a unique secondary college with equal numbers of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students. The college was host in August 1998 to the National Youth Convention Forum for the Future which produced a 10-point charter, and Rio Tinto supported the convention again in 1999. To honour the efforts made by the convention, Yolngu from Arnhem Land performed, for the first time outside traditional homelands, the Wukandi ceremony (a traditional reconciliation feast or ‘communion’).

The collective effort by Rio Tinto employees and associates around Australia has made the company a leader in reconciliation initiatives. Rio Tinto is building good long-term relationships with the traditional owners in areas where our mine sites are located and will be located for a long time to come. The company recognises native title and is seeking to acknowledge Aboriginal interests in all land use agreements.