Premier calls probe into Sandfire’s Aboriginal artefact destruction as CEO rejects claims of critical issues: West Australian

Adrian Rauso and Matt Mckenzie
Fri, 1 December 2023

Premier Roger Cook has blasted WA-based copper miner Sandfire Resources. Credit: Michael Wilson/The West Australian

Premier Roger Cook has blasted Sandfire Resources for destroying Aboriginal artefacts, while the miner’s chief executive claims he learnt about the disaster nearly a year after a crucial internal report, which was uncovered by The West Australian.

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

“If what we read in the media is true, and I have no reason to believe it’s not, Sandfire are responsible for egregious actions in relation to the Aboriginal cultural heritage on the land they are operating,” he said.

“We’ve been in contact with the Aboriginal Affairs Minister today and asked him to investigate, and where appropriate, to prosecute for what appears to be a very unfortunate oversight by that company.”

The move comes just a day after Sandfire told the Australian Securities Exchange it had destroyed Aboriginal artefacts several times more than five years ago, without reporting it to the state Government.

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

The West also understands Sandfire’s release to the ASX on Thursday followed pressure from traditional owners — the Yugunga-Nya people — and their representatives to make the findings public.

Sandfire said an internal review of its historical activities “confirmed that unregistered, low-density artefact scatter has been disturbed” at its depleted operations 150km north of Meekatharra, which were shut down during the June quarter this year following a failed sale attempt.

“The review included an assessment of available geospatial data, which indicated the disturbance primarily occurred in 2017 and 2018 as a result of a series of process failures during the construction of the Monty satellite mine,” Sandfire stated.

Sandfire’s CEO Brendan Harris — who took over the top job in April this year — told The West 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.

Mr Harris’ appointment to the top job was announced in November last year.

Despite learning about the “potential” destruction nearly a year after some of his colleagues, Mr Harris says 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.

In 2016, the Yugunga-Nya traditional owners completed a heritage survey identifying two sites at DeGrussa containing more than 90 designated artefacts.

Sandfire has said it apologised to traditional owners and has now reported the destruction to WA’s Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage.

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

Sandfire CEO Brendan Harris

Yugunga-Nya elder Andrew Gentle Sr told The West on Thursday that Sandfire had not apologised to traditional owners.

“I’ve heard nothing from them … they’ve spent millions and millions on the project and we’ve got nothing out of it,” Mr Gentle Sr said.

West Perth-based Sandfire, which has a market value of about $2.8 billion, operates in Spain and Botswana after exhausting copper supply at DeGrussa.

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