Rio Tinto: empty rhetoric exposed

May 2, 2003 - Greens (WA) MLC Robin Chapple has expressed bitter disappointment at the failure of Rio Tinto chairman Sir Robert Wilson to rule out development of the Jabiluka Uranium Mine, casting significant doubts over the company's stated commitment to sustainable development.

At an Annual General Meeting marked by protest and hard questions both on St Georges Terrace and inside the AGM, Sir Robert missed a historic opportunity to prove that Rio Tinto's commitment to Indigenous land rights is anything more than hollow rhetoric.

The Jabiluka uranium mine is resolutely opposed by the Mirrar Traditional Owners in Kakadu, on whose request a prepared statement was read at the AGM on Thursday. The mining lease is held by Rio Tinto subsidiary Energy Resources Australia.

Robin Chapple MLC and anti-nuclear campaigner Jo Vallentine put several questions to Sir Robert at yesterday's AGM, and were wholly unsatisfied with the response.

'Sir Robert has given us nothing more than a commitment to keep wearing down the Traditional Owners until they give in,' Mr Chapple said. 'This attitude borders on coercion, and it casts a grim light on their operations elsewhere in Australia where they say they are proud of their record on Indigenous rights.'

'The Mirrar's position is crystal clear. They want the site rehabilitated and reincorporated into the boundaries of the Kakadu World Heritage Area. There is no place here for Sir Wilson's talk about long-term care and maintenance of the site. Jabiluka has no long-term future except as a reminder to us all that some places are too precious to mine.'

Mr Chapple said the experience of the AGM would inevitably colour his future dealings with the company on their Western Australian operations. 'I found the Board's answers to questions on Rio's industrial relations, human rights and environmental record were evasive and unhelpful,' Mr Chapple said. 'The company clearly has a long way to go in all these areas.

'Solving the Jabiluka issue once and for all by acceding to the wishes of the legitimate owners of that country would be a simple way to build some trust.'

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