Melbourne Mining Club
Kellie Parker, Managing Director of Rio Tinto Australia
Friday, August 5, 2022
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I would like to begin by saluting the traditional custodians of the lands on which we meet today, the Bunurong Boon Wurrung and Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung peoples of the East Kulin Nation.
I extend this respect to all traditional owners on whose lands we live, work and operate. I also pay tribute to their elders, past and present, and to the other Indigenous Australians who join us today. I also recognize the rich and enduring cultural heritage of indigenous peoples who have traditional ownership and custodial responsibilities; I recognize their deep and ongoing connection to the land and the waters.
Since taking over as Australia’s Chief Executive in March last year, I have had the privilege of meeting many Indigenous leaders and communities across Australia. With each interaction, I continue to learn, grow and understand, and I remain touched by their generosity of spirit and their willingness to share with us.
Gavan has already called some of the VIPs present today, including chairman Richard Morrow and patrons Hugh Morgan and Leigh Clifford.
I, too, would like to acknowledge the contribution to the success of the Australian resource sector that all of these leaders have made.
Everyone in this room would be quick to recognize that the strength, scale and success of the mining sector in Australia today reflects the foresight and courage shown by past generations.
During my two decades at Rio Tinto, I have long understood that our industry is built on giants.
At Rio Tinto, no figure is more important than former CEO Leigh Clifford.
When it comes to the Australian business community, or Rio, if you mention the name ‘Leigh’, everyone knows who you’re talking about.
These days it’s Leigh Clifford AC, after her elevation to Companion of the Order of Australia in the recent Queen’s Birthday Honors List. It is appropriate that we recognize this honor today among friends. Congratulations Leigh.
Leigh began his 37 years in Rio as an assistant surveyor and served as CEO from 2000 to 2007.
Leigh ran Rio Tinto when I joined the company in 2001, so for me he is deeply connected to the contemporary history of my business.
He was instrumental in accelerating China’s role as a customer of Australian commodities and, equally important, left his mark through his marks of leadership in innovation and reform – qu whether it’s workplace practices, technology or the Australian economy.
I know I’m stepping into dangerous territory picking one of Melbourne’s favorite foster sons (especially with his home advantage in this play) but when I heard Leigh was in attendance today I thought to take a look at one of his old Melbourne Mining Club Speeches.
Whether it was for inspiration – or just old curiosity – I’m not sure, it was probably a mix of both.
And there he was – 20 years ago this month in Melbourne Town Hall – speaking on familiar themes to everyone in the room.
The paramount importance of safety; the need for the sector to continuously improve its productivity; and, before the boom, expose the potential of the sector to develop the market towards China.
All topics that I’m sure he would continue to revisit in other forums countless times during his tenure as CEO.
Leigh even referenced the benefits of renewable energy and discussed the challenges mining companies face in engaging with local communities.
Now we all know that mining is a long term industry. But two decades later, these issues are still being discussed at Rio Tinto’s board table, arguably with more prominence than ever.
So, 20 years later, in my talk today, I would like to share my thoughts on how Rio Tinto views community engagement in the context of company-wide cultural reset and the role renewable energies in the energy transition.
First, community engagement.
Leigh remarked that “communities have a voice and they want to be heard”.
For businesses across Australia, effective community engagement is more relevant today than ever.
Society’s expectations – for businesses, governments and community organizations are higher than ever – and there are increasingly accessible ways to ensure that these views are clearly articulated and widely shared.
For the mining sector in 2022, we are juggling the fallout from the challenges of global geopolitical uncertainty and rapidly changing societal expectations.
And I can almost hear Leigh mumbling across the table, “So what’s up? I was talking about this 20 years ago!”
There is an argument, however, that the pace of change is now faster than ever.
Rio Tinto fully understands this dynamic.
Since my appointment as Managing Director, Australia 18 months ago, I have spent a great deal of time engaging with our stakeholders across Australia as part of a business reset led by our CEO, Jakob Stausholm.
It involved a lot of listening.
I needed to hear firsthand what our stakeholders were thinking.
Traditional owners, employees, Rio Tinto alumni, governments, investors, partners, suppliers, civil society and many more. Not just our supporters, but some of our most vocal critics.
Although many of my conversations were conflicting, they were invaluable in tracing our engagement in Australia.
Encouragingly, what I took away was that the common denominator in my conversations with stakeholders was Rio Tinto’s desire to thrive and succeed in repositioning the business for sustainable success.
Everyone understands why a strong and sustainable resource sector is good for Australia. Everyone also understands why it is important for Rio Tinto to reset well.
While Rio Tinto has made significant progress, I am the first to acknowledge that we still have a long way to go.
We recognize that there were serious underlying issues long before the terrible events at Juukan Gorge in 2020.
Much of this was culture related. It is widely recognized that culture is the foundation of performance and essential to the effective execution of strategy.
We now recognize that we had placed too much emphasis on business performance.
We had focused too much on our short-term needs and our transactional relationships, and we had neglected the connections and rapport we had spent so long building over the previous generation.