Rio celebrates 50 years of iron ore

RIO Tinto celebrated 50 years of iron ore in the Pilbara in style with a gala bash in Perth on Friday night.
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The MV Houn Maru being loaded at Dampier port in 1966.



Kristie Batten

New Rio CEO Jean-Sebastien Jacques flew in from London for the occasion, which was compered by new iron ore chief Chris Salisbury.

Among the 700-odd attendees were WA Premier Colin Barnett, federal Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop (representing Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull), Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and former WA Premier Richard Court, whose father Sir Charles Court was instrumental in issuing the initial iron ore export permits.

Bishop and Barnett both addressed the crowd to congratulate Rio on the milestone, while Barnett also accepted a donation of 50 historical materials, including photographs, films and books, from Rio on behalf of the State Library of WA.

Other guests at the dinner included Japanese and Chinese partners, current and former employees, stakeholders and media.

Former Rio chairman and current Qantas chairman Leigh Clifford was there, as was former CEO Sam Walsh, who has returned to live in Perth after his stint in London and spent a great deal of his night mixing with journalists.

Guests were treated to a performance by the Perth Symphony Orchestra. Perth composer Kevin Penkin composed a piece of music for the occasion, named Houn Maru after the vessel the maiden shipment of iron ore set sail on from Dampier on August 22, 1966.

Jacques said despite only being with Rio for five years, he had long understood the significance of the Pilbara.

“It is hard to overstate the importance, and impact, of unlocking the Pilbara’s vast iron ore deposits. Most West Australians know the story, but with each year fewer Australians do,” he said.

“Today our Australian iron ore business is often regarded as the jewel in Rio Tinto’s crown; and with justifiable cause.”

Jacques said the Pilbara had given a great deal to Australia over the past 50 years, including international relationships and opportunities, jobs, access to capital, indigenous opportunities, taxes and royalties.

“But in the challenges of the moment let’s all ensure myths do not take hold. A narrative that the Pilbara, and the industry, has not, or does not, pay it fair share is plain wrong,” he said.

Jacques described WA Nationals leader Brendon Grylls’ proposed mining tax on Rio and BHP Billiton as a major risk.

“As it has for each generation, our industry will continue to contribute to Australia – in terms of jobs, technology and taxes,” he said.

“Some might say that mining is part of the old economy and that our best days are over. I don’t agree.

“Our industry is one of the last real, tangible businesses left in the world. It is nation building. It is job creating. It is highly technical and innovative. It is decades old and will deliver value for decades to come. We should be proud to be miners.”