• PKKP Traditional Owner Harold Ashburton at the Juukan Gorge site which was destroyed by blasts by Rio Tinto in May 2020. (PKKP Aboriginal Corporation.)Source: PKKP Aboriginal Corporation.
The committee examining the destruction of cultural heritage at Juukan Gorge will travel to Western Australia next week to speak with Traditional Owners on Country and visit the site of the blast.
Rae Johnston, Keira Jenkins

30 Oct 2020 - 2:01 PM  UPDATED 30 Oct 2020 - 2:01 PM

A parliamentary committee examining Rio Tinto's destruction of 46,000 year old caves at Juukan Gorge will visit the Western Australia site next week.

Northern Australia Committee chair Warren Entsch said the committee will finally meet with the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people on Monday morning.

"In two words: At last," he told NITV News.

"It's taken a while. It's been quite a journey in Covid times.

"Right from the beginning we made it very clear that we had no intention of finalising this element of the report until we actually sat down and spoke face to face with the Traditional Owners and actually walked on the site ourselves, seen it with our own eyes and experienced the devastation for ourselves because I think that is absolutely critical when we hand down our final report."

Mr Entsch said this is the third time the committee has attempted to travel to Western Australia but border closures have prevented committee members from entering the state.

The PKKP people have already given evidence to the committee via teleconference, saying they only learned of plans to destroy the significant site just days before the blast was set to occur.

The PKKP also told the inquiry they had not been presented with options for avoiding the destruction of Juukan Gorge by Rio Tinto.

Mr Entsch said a yarning session on Country is essential to informing the committee's final report.

"There will be no findings, there will be no recommendations unless we listen to those voices, unless we go out and stand on the site and see the site, see the devastation and we feel it, sense it ourselves," he said.

Mr Entsch said while there is no amount of compensation that could make up for the PKKP people's loss, the committee wants to make sure that destruction like this can never happen again.

"There was so many flags to this. There was no way on this earth, from all the evidence that we've had, that those that pushed the button were not aware of what was happening here," he said.

"I think there was a level of deception, I think there was a level of purpose. They decided what they wanted to do and they just tried to find a way of justifying it and I think at the end of the day they made a decision that the best way to do this was to blow the thing up and apologise."

The committee will also hold a public hearing on Monday afternoon, and will hear evidence from the Murujuga and Robe River Kuruma Aboriginal corporations. 

Rio Tinto executives admit 'failings' ahead of Juukan Gorge destruction
Rio Tinto executives tell the inquiry into the destruction of Juukan Gorge that it was a "poor decision" to not present Traditional Owners with all the options to expand their Brockman mine site in WA's Pilbara.