• Rio Tinto iron ore chief executive Chris Salisbury issued a new apology following allegations he told employees he wasn't sorry. (AAP)Source: AAP
Rio Tinto's head of iron ore says the company is actually "very sorry" despite reports he previously told employees the company hadn't technically apologised for worksite blasting which destroyed 46,000-year-old Aboriginal sites in WA’s Pilbara region.
Rangi Hirini

17 Jun 2020 - 10:15 AM  UPDATED 17 Jun 2020 - 10:15 AM

The chief executive of Rio Tinto's iron ore group has said the company is in fact "very sorry" for destroying 46,000-year-old rock shelters in Western Australia's Pilbara region.

The latest apology follows an audio recording - allegedly leaked from a team meeting – where the mining company boss said the company was sorry for causing distress to the local Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura ­people (PKKP), but had not technically apologised for the blasting. 

During a response to an employee's complaint about how the company responded to criticism of the blast, Mr Salisbury allegedly said: "That's why we haven't apologised for the event itself, per se, but apologised for the distress the event caused."

In a new statement, Mr Salisbury said the mining company now unreservedly apologised for what happened at Juukan Gorge.   

“We have made it clear to the PKKP that we are very sorry, it was never our intent to cause distress. Rio Tinto employees are hurting and I am personally distressed,” Mr Salisbury said in a statement on Monday night.

“We are committed to learning from this and doing all we can to improve. We are working closely with the PKKP to find a clear way forward on future plans for the Juukan Gorge."

Proposal for a new national heritage legislation 

The issue of protecting Aboriginal Heritage has become a hot topic following the legal blasting at Juukan Gorge last month. 

On Tuesday, the National Native Title Council (NNTC) issued a statement to the Commonwealth to create and implement national legislation for Indigenous cultural heritage. 

The NNTC along with the Australian Heritage Council, the Indigenous Heritage Chairs of Australia and New Zealand and the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council are in the process of developing and advocating for national standards in Indigenous cultural heritage legislation.

Deputy Chair of the NNTC and Ngalia Traditional Owner, Kado Muir, criticised the management of Aboriginal heritage in WA. 

“Sadly, the system is not broken – it’s working exactly how industry and government want it to," said Mr Muir. 

"The way Aboriginal heritage is managed in Western Australia reflects how the pendulum has swung too far in favour of the development agenda and loses touch with the desire of our community to preserve and protect Aboriginal heritage and culture." 

Rio Tinto ‘not sorry’ for cave blast as investigation opens into newly destroyed sacred site
Rio Tinto chief executive Chris Sailsbury tells employees that the mining giant was actually not apologising for destroying 46,000-year-old Aboriginal rock shelters, as a dispute continues elsewhere in the Kimberley region over granite mining on traditional lands.