Rio plan to restore native title at diamond mine


Russell Skelton, Syndey Morning Herald –

Date of publication: 
6 April 2012

IN AN unprecedented move mining giant Rio Tinto is clearing the way for native title to be restored on thousands of hectares of land surrounding its highly successful Argyle diamond mine in the Kimberley.

Kevin McLeish, managing director of Argyle Diamonds,said: ‘‘We are working to do what nobody else has done, removing the roadblocks to allow the re-establishment of native title over the land.’‘

He said Argyle Diamonds had begun discussions with the West Australian government that involved making a fundamental change to the special-purpose grazing lease under which mining currently takes place.

WA Mines Minister Norman Moore, was unavailable for comment and it is believed cabinet is yet to consider the matter. But there may be resistance from sections of the government concerned about the precedent such a move could set for pastoral leases in the Kimberley.

A change would open the way for the Miriuwung and Gidjao peoples to claim title to the land. It will be the first time native title has been restored to land where it has been extinguished.

Rio’s Argyle subsidiary mines 90 per cent of the world’s champagne and cognac diamonds and all its rare pink diamonds, including last month a 12.76 carat monster, one of the biggest pinks ever found.

Mr McLeish said the move was part of Rio’s focus on sustainability and good relationships with indigenous communities that would continue well after the mining was over.

However, the move comes at a crucial time. The life of the mine is not expected to extend much beyond 2020. Last month Rio also announced a worldwide rationalisation of its mining interests under which Argyle Diamonds could be sold off.

The move to restore native title is consistent with Rio’s progressive policies towards indigenous engagement and its goal to maximise indigenous employment in all mining ventures in Australia, Canada and Africa.

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