News State Western Australia News Rio Tinto executive got big pay rise after review of Juukan cave blast
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Rio Tinto executive got big pay rise after review of Juukan cave blast

Evidence of over 40,000 years of human habitation were discovered during the excavation of one of the Juukan cave sites in 2014. Photo: ABC
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It has been revealed the man responsible for leading a review into Rio Tinto’s Juukan Gorge disaster received an enormous pay rise.

Last year, the company blasted 46,000-year-old rock shelters in Western Australia’s Pilbara region, despite warnings of the site’s cultural significance to Indigenous Australians.

On Monday, Rio Tinto published its annual report.

The report’s remuneration section shows the man who led the internal inquiry into the disaster, Michael L’Estrange, was paid an extra 46 per cent on top of his annual director fees for his efforts.

Subsequently, his director fees for 2020 totalled $US227,000 ($AU288,386).

The way the Juukan Cave blast was handled was a corporate disaster, according to Thomas Clarke, who specialises in management and corporate governance.

“As a director, he shouldn’t have been doing the job in the first place, but attaching a big fee to it wasn’t really very appropriate either,” he told the ABC’s PM program.

“A disgraceful occurrence that no corporation should ever have allowed to occur.”

Rio Tinto released its annual report on Monday. Photo: ABC News/Hugh Sando

In December last year, Labor senator Pat Dodson, a member of the joint parliamentary committee that also looked into the issue, said the destruction of the caves was one of the worst avoidable disasters “that has ever happened in our country”.

Professor Clarke said the pay rise would rub salt into the wound for Indigenous Australians.

“Really, having a board member doing the inquiry wasn’t appropriate at all,” he said.

“It should have been an independent, external person who did this inquiry.

He said the inquiry was done internally so the miner could “manage the outcome”.

Independent mining analyst Mark Pervan said no director should have received a single extra cent following the debacle.

“They realised the damage had been done,” Mr Pervan said.

“There is clearly an opportunity here to show they are serious about amending that and I think that could have been done through a zero-remuneration adjustment or putting the hard work in and hoping they can restore the reputation and trust with the community.”

Marcia Langton refused to conduct inquiry

The annual report also shows the CEO, Jean-Sebastien Jacques, also received a pay 20 per cent rise, taking home $12.85 million last year – under the British method of calculating executive pay.

That is despite the Rio Tinto board labelling the CEO “partially responsible” for the incident in August last year.

Iman country woman Marcia Langton is the foundation chair of Australian Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne.

She was asked to help Mr L’Estrange conduct the inquiry but refused when, she said, it was obviously not going to be independent.

“I interrogated them on a number of critical questions and I came to the conclusion that they had no intention of doing an independent review, nor allowing me to see all the files,” she said.

“And so it became pretty evident to me that what they wanted me to do was a clean-up job for them and I said, ‘No I’m not going to participate in anything like that,’ and so they’ve moved onto somebody else,” she said.

In response to several questions from PM about the appropriateness of executive financial rewards during this period, Rio Tinto declined to be quoted.

The miner referred PM to explanatory notes in the annual report.

On whether or not the inquiry into Juukan Gorge was independent when the director who led the inquiry owned shares, Rio Tinto said it encouraged directors to own shares in the company.

-ABC