Major Sandfire Resources shareholder Aware Super wants answers over Aboriginal artefact destruction at WA mine: West Australian

Adrian Rauso The West Australian
Tue, 5 December 2023

Sandfire’s DeGrussa copper mine near Meekatharra. Credit: Supplied

One of Australia’s largest super funds and major Sandfire Resources shareholder — Aware Super — wants to know why the WA-based copper miner’s destruction of Aboriginal artefacts took so long to be divulged.

Last Thursday, Sandfire told the Australian Securities Exchange it had destroyed Aboriginal artefacts at its now-shuttered DeGrussa mine several times more than five years ago, without reporting it to the State Government.

This followed a heritage survey undertaken in 2016 by the Yugunga-Nya traditional owners, which identified two sites at DeGrussa — 150km north of Meekatharra — containing more than 90 designated artefacts.

After Sandfire made the admission, The West Australian revealed the miner became aware it had destroyed the artefacts at the Monty deposit within its DeGrussa operations in October last year.

On Monday, The West then revealed the issue was escalated from beyond the mine site team at DeGrussa during the period when Sandfire tried to sell the mine.

Following queries by The West, a spokesman from Aware said the super fund wanted answers from Sandfire.

“Understanding the distress that will be felt about this issue within the community, we’re keen to learn more about what has happened, how it happened, and why it’s taken time to come to light,” the spokesman said.

“Sandfire Resources is among companies in our ongoing Cultural Heritage Engagement Plan, and we’ll be engaging directly with the company to answer these questions.

“The cultural heritage of First Nations people is a significant and treasured part of the Australian story.”

Aware is Australia’s third-biggest super fund with about $160 billion under management and is a top 10 Sandfire shareholder with a stake just under 2 per cent.

Sandfire formally kicked off the process to divest its nearly-depleted DeGrussa operation last December. The copper mine failed to attract suitors and was subsequently mothballed during the June quarter.

Premier Roger Cook last Friday said Sandfire was responsible for “egregious actions” and he wants Aboriginal Affairs Minister Tony Buti to investigate the miner.

Sandfire’s chief executive Brendan Harris told The West last week he first “became aware of this issue in September 2023”.

“A report in October 2022, that was not necessarily understood, indicated there was potentially a disturbance,” he said at the time.

Despite learning about the “potential disturbance” nearly a year after some of his colleagues, Mr Harris has previously said the situation does not point to major internal issues within Sandfire.

“This is not indicative of a critical issue within our reporting structure, it’s a very unique situation we need to understand,” he said.

On Monday, representatives for the Yugunga-Nya in a statement said Sandfire’s chief executive Brendan Harris “finally apologised” to the traditional owners on Friday evening, following the flagged intervention by the Government.

“Mr Harris fails to understand the seriousness of the hurt that Sandfire has caused by its behaviour,” it stated.

“Yugunga-Nya calls on the Sandfire board to remove Mr Harris and asks its chairperson, John Richards to show leadership, take control of the situation and engage openly and meaningfully with the Yugunga-Nya.”

West Perth-based Sandfire, which has a market value of about $2.9 billion, operates in Spain and Botswana after exhausting copper supply at DeGrussa.

The DeGrussa deposit was discovered in 2009 and brought into production roughly three years later at a cost of $380 million.

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