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MRM Opening Statement at Juukan Gorge Inquiry Public Hearing

Opening statement to public hearing
6 July 2021

 

Introduction

Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to appear before the Committee.

Our mine sits on Gudanji land and our port sits on Yanuwa land and I would like to pay my respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging.

My name is Steven Rooney and I am the General Manager for McArthur River Mine.

Joining me today are Tracy Jones, MRM Community and Corporate Affairs Superintendent, Adam Hatfield, MRM Manager of Health, Safety and Environment and Cass McCarthy, Glencore Corporate Affairs lead in Australia.

Acknowledgment and apology

There has been a lot said about the McArthur River Mine – before this Inquiry, during this Inquiry and likely after this Inquiry.

It’s true, McArthur River Mine has a controversial history and carries a legacy of sadness for some Traditional Owners and broader community in the Gulf Region of the Northern Territory.

We want to acknowledge that the mine, and in particular the diversion of the McArthur River in 2006, continues to be a source of sadness and has had an impact on country.

Today, we as Glencore and the current operators of the McArthur River Mine want to offer an apology and say sorry to the Indigenous people and Traditional Owners from the four language groups of Gudanji, Yanyuwa, Garrwa and Marra.

McArthur River Mine has never destroyed sacred sites but we acknowledge that historical actions like the river diversion have clearly not meet the expectations of the Aboriginal community.

While Glencore cannot change this history we are committed to working together with Traditional Owners to better meet community expectations going forward.

Committee visit

We would also like to thank Committee members for taking the time to actually visit McArthur River Mine, and in addition to visiting sacred sites with TOs, being prepared to listen to our perspective and see first-hand how the mine is managed.

Since your visit, we have had several meetings with Traditional Owners about how we can provide better access to sacred sites.

We are engaging with the Northern Land Council (NLC) about holding a community meeting in Borroloola to provide Traditional Owners with an update on the Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) process.

We note that the theme for NAIDOC week this year is healing country. We’d like to acknowledge Senator Dodson’s suggestion of a ceremony or healing meeting on country. Our community team is talking with Traditional Owners about this and how it might work. The initial feedback is that people want time to discuss it before progressing.

We will provide whatever assistance is needed if this is something Traditional Owners want to do.

Socio-economic contribution

McArthur River Mine is committed to meaningful engagement with Traditional Owners that respects and protects cultural heritage and helps build the long-term social and economic prosperity of local Indigenous communities.

We believe the mine is a source of opportunity and enabler of socio-economic change.

Our workforce takes pride in what they do and the mine provides employment for more than 1,000 people. We work with 900 suppliers and contribute almost half a billion dollars to the economy. 

We are very proud that 24.3% of our permanent workforce is Indigenous and 48 people from the local community are employed at MRM. 

MRM also contributes approximately $1.3 million every year into the McArthur River Mine (MRM) Community Benefits Trust (CBT).  This Trust has made a major contribution to the NT Gulf Region, in areas such as health, education and cultural heritage.

Independent monitor

Our environmental performance is reviewed and publicly reported on every year by an Independent Monitor and we have a comprehensive environmental monitoring regime across the mine site.

It is clear that we have faced a number of operational challenges at the mine that we continue to manage today.  

We know that a lot of this information is technical and complex and we are open to recommendations on how we could better communicate this to the TOs and the local community so that they have confidence in how we are managing the mine. 

As the General Manager for the mine, I am focussed on ensuring we continuously improve and are open and transparent with the community about our environmental and operational performance.

Cultural heritage approvals/operational challenges

Over the past four years MRM has been seeking approval from the Northern Territory Government and the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA) to progress a project that would increase the height of the waste rock pile as mining continues out to 2038.

There have been concerns raised by some in the community about the potential physical and non-physical impacts this may have on a sacred site called Damangani and a cultural heritage site called MRM4. 

Our current approvals do not allow us to increase the height of our waste rock pile above 80 metres or to move artefacts from MRM4.

We want to be very clear today. MRM will not proceed (and of course cannot proceed) with this work unless and until we obtain the appropriate approvals from AAPA and the Northern Territory Government. We have always sought to achieve this through a process of agreement making with the custodians of the site.

We are now engaging with the Northern Land Council to facilitate discussions with Traditional Owners about an Indigenous Land Use Agreement for the McArthur River mine site and Bing Bong Loading Facility. This will include discussions in relation to the Damangani and MRM4 sites.

Recommendations

In closing, we know the Committee is solutions focussed and is tasked with making policy recommendations. 

If there was one recommendation we could put forward for consideration by this Committee, it would be for a greater transparency and accountability of relevant statutory bodies to provide clearer guidance to project proponents on who are the custodians of sacred sites. 

Moving forward MRM is committed to the following:

  • improving and formalising our ongoing engagement and communication with community;
  • providing a regular update on environmental performance to community outside of the Independent Monitor process;
  • implementing a cultural respect strategy which also includes working with Traditional Owners to provide access to, and continue to improve management and protection of, cultural heritage and sacred sites on our mining lease.
  • working closely with the NLC to ensure local Indigenous people are heard as part of the ILUA process.

Almost one in four of our workforce is Indigenous, so having an ILUA is important to our workforce, the community and Traditional Owners.

We hope that this will be the first step in creating a shared vision for the future in which the Indigenous TOs, local community and the mine work together.

Thank you for the opportunity to make a statement and we would be happy to answer any questions the Committee may have.

 

For further information, please contact:

Media

Francis De Rosa
m: +61 417 074 751
e: Francis De Rosa

Tracy Jones
m: +61 418 251 774
e: Tracy Jones