Survey finds Western Australia’s mining sector ‘has failed to protect women’

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Western Australia’s multi-billion dollar mining industry has failed to protect women from predatory sexual behavior, an investigation has found.

A committee chaired by Liberal MP Libby Mettam delivered its findings on Thursday after almost a year of investigations, launched after a number of women came forward to police detailing allegations of sexual assaults at major mines in WA .

Ms Mettam told WA parliament she was shocked and appalled at the scale of the problem, saying victims had faced targeted violence, harassment, grooming and threats to their livelihoods.

And she warned the industry needed to do more to expel the perpetrators after hearing evidence that some had simply changed places of work or found new jobs in the sector.

“It’s totally inexcusable and just plain shocking that this could happen in the 21st century in one of the most lucrative industries in the state,” Ms. Mettam said.

“This represents a failure by the industry to protect its workers and raises real questions about why the government hasn’t been better on this issue of safety.”

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The committee recommended that the mining sector explore options for a sex offender registry that could be similar to a “working with children” card.

It also recommends the creation of a government forum to hear, document and acknowledge the experiences of victims.

This process could explore options for redress, such as a formal apology and appropriate compensation.

Labor backbench and committee member Mark Folkard told parliament in a moving speech that he thought it should take the form of a royal commission.

“I am convinced that we have serious sexual predators lurking in the sector. They have been there for many years and are still unchallenged,” he said.

The report was critical of the performance of WA’s Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety.

DMIRS said it had received just 22 reports of sexual assaults at mine sites in seven years, but WA Police said they had investigated 23 incidents in just two years.

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“It’s hard to believe the regulator could have accepted this level of reporting as reflecting the true situation on the ground,” Ms Mettam said.

The investigation found that DMIRS should review its practices and create a specialized unit to handle these reports.

Ms Mettam applauded the bravery of the victims who came forward with their experiences.

A woman was told by her supervisor after a near miss while driving a transport truck that he would wipe out the investigation if she had sex with him.

She was told she would have to “get down on her knees if she wanted to get her shirt”, meaning a permanent job with the mining company.

Another woman was knocked unconscious in her donga and awoke to find her jeans and underpants around her ankles.

Pilbara mining giants Rio Tinto, BHP and Fortescue Metals Group were among the companies that publicly introduced the committee.

All three confirmed that they fired workers for assault and harassment.

They and other miners have since implemented safety measures, including stricter alcohol limits, improved reporting mechanisms and better CCTV and lighting.

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Just days before the report, Roy Hill, owned by Gina Rinehart, confirmed it had received a report of a woman being sexually assaulted by a fellow contractor at one of its sites.

Women’s Interests Minister Simone McGurk said the government would review the findings before backing any specific recommendations, a position echoed by industry.

She said mining companies will continue to struggle to attract women until they eliminate bad behavior in the workplace.

FMG chief executive Elizabeth Gaines, who previously opposed the creation of an offender registry, acknowledged that some inappropriate behavior still occurs despite efforts to improve security and a “zero tolerance” policy.

A 2020 report by the Commission on Human Rights found that 74% of women in mining had experienced harassment in the previous five years.

The Minerals Council of Australia said the industry is committed to eliminating sexual harassment and will continue to advance safeguards.

-PAA

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