On 24 May 2020, Rio Tinto conducted a blast as part of its extension of the Brockman 4 iron ore mine. The blast devastated Aboriginal heritage sites at Juukan Gorge, including two rock shelters of great cultural, ethnographic and archaeological significance.
On 11 June 2020, the Senate referred to the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia the inquiry into the destruction of 46,000 year old caves at the Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.4 The original reporting date was 30 September, but this was subsequently extended to 9 December.
To date, the inquiry has received 142 submissions, received numerous supplementary submissions and other documents, and held 11 public hearings. The Committee also held a yarn session with the PKKP people, at which people were able to speak freely of their grief, anger and hopes to the Committee, before a visit to the Juukan Gorge site itself. This visit, delayed twice because of COVID-19, was essential to the inquiry, allowing the Committee to bear witness to the destruction of the caves and its impacts on the Traditional Owners.
The extent of the evidence received to date, the complexity of the issues, the need to examine matters more widely in Western Australia and nationally, and the disruptions caused by COVID-19, means that the Committee feels that it cannot do full justice to the issues raised by the inquiry with a final report at this date. The Committee has decided, therefore, to present this interim report, outlining its findings to date, its plans for the future, and making some broad recommendations which it hopes will inform discussion and policy in government at the State and Federal level, within the corporate sector, and within the community.