Mining giant Glencore has been blocked from expanding operations near a sacred Aboriginal site in Australia, where it had hoped to dump vast quantities of combustible, toxic rock.
The Northern Territory government halted expansion plans for the Anglo-Swiss company’s McArthur River zinc and lead mine, with memories still fresh of Rio Tinto’s 2020 destruction of a 46,000-year-old sacred rock shelter in Western Australia.
Glencore wanted approval to dump the flammable rock to a height of 140 metres (460 feet) beside the sacred site known as Barramundi Dreaming over the next 15 years to double the size of the lead and zinc mine it operates through a subsidiary.
The miner argued it had permission from six local Aboriginal custodians to do so, a claim a larger group of traditional owners challenged.
Northern Territory heritage minister Chansey Paech on Tuesday rejected Glencore’s application to overturn a decision by the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority.
The authority had earlier ruled Glencore should have consulted with a much larger group of up to 180 custodians.
The authority’s chief executive, Benedict Scambary, said the minister’s decision “puts all developers on notice that lip service to consultation is not good enough”, adding: “Protecting sacred sites is not a box to be ticked, or an obstacle to be sidestepped.”
Glencore’s subsidiary on Wednesday said it will continue to negotiate a land-use agreement with traditional owners. “We remain committed to these negotiations and broad consultation with Traditional Owners,” it said in a statement.
Last year, Australian politicians investigating Rio Tinto’s dynamiting of the sacred rock shelter at Juukan Gorge also visited the Indigenous community near the McArthur River mine. Residents raised concerns about Glencore’s expansion plans.
It has been a rocky week for Glencore, with the miner posting its highest-ever profit, while revealing it has earmarked Aus$2.1 billion (US$1.5 billion) for expected settlement payments in corruption inquiries around the world.
- AFP, with additional editing by George Russell