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Rio Tinto appoints Aboriginal Australian former minister to board

Miner seeks to repair reputation after last year's demolition of historical site

Rio Tinto has made its first Aboriginal board appointment, hiring former Western Australian state treasurer Ben Wyatt. (AAP/Richard Wainwright)

MELBOURNE (Reuters) -- Rio Tinto has made its first Aboriginal board appointment, hiring former Western Australian state treasurer Ben Wyatt as it strives to rebuild its reputation following last year's destruction of the Juukan Gorge rockshelters.

Wyatt, 47, retired from state parliament in March after a 15-year career that included time as Aboriginal affairs minister, where he helped reshape legislation to protect Aboriginal cultural heritage.

He will join Rio as a non-executive director, Rio said in a statement.

Rio Tinto destroyed 46,000-year-old rock shelters at Juukan Gorge in Western Australia in May 2020 against the wishes of the traditional owners, causing a public outcry and costing Rio's boss, chair and two senior executives their jobs.

Wyatt graduated from the Royal Military College Duntroon, has a masters from the London School of Economics, and family links to the remote Pilbara region of northwestern Australia, where Rio mines its iron ore, through his Yamatji heritage.

He said he was looking forward to building on the momentum for change at Rio Tinto that had been generated by its new leadership team.

"I was deeply saddened and disappointed by the events at Juukan Gorge but I am convinced that Rio Tinto is committed to changing its approach to cultural heritage issues and restoring its reputation, particularly in Australia and Western Australia," he said in a statement.

Rio Tinto Chairman Simon Thompson said in a statement Wyatt's knowledge of public policy, finance, international trade and Indigenous affairs would "significantly add to the depth of knowledge on the Board at a time when we are seeking to strengthen relationships with key stakeholders in Australia and around the world”.

Western Australian heritage protection legislation is still being redrafted and is expected to be presented to parliament later this year.

Wyatt also this week joined the board of energy producer Woodside Petroleum.

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