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Study finds WA mining sector ‘failed to protect the women’

by Anthony L. Gonzalez

Western Australia’s multibillion-dollar mining industry has failed to protect women from predatory sexual behavior, a study finds.

A committee chaired by Liberal MP Libby Mettam released its findings Thursday after a year of investigations launched after several women came to police with detailed allegations of sexual assault at large WA mines.

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

Study finds WA mining sector 'failed to protect the women'

And she warned the industry needed to do more to dislodge perpetrators after hearing evidence that some had merely changed jobs or returned to work within the industry.

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

“This represents the industry’s failure to protect its workers and raises real questions about why the government was not better at this safety issue.”

The commission recommended that the mining industry explore options for a sex offender registry similar to a ‘working with children’ card.

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

In this process, options for redress, such as formal apologies and appropriate compensation, can be explored.

Labor backbencher and committee member Mark Folkard told parliament in an emotional speech that this should be a royal commission.

“I believe we have hidden serious sexual predators in the industry. They have been around for many years and are still undisputed,” he said.

The report criticized the performance of the WA Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety.

DMIRS said it had received only 22 reports of sexual assault on mining sites in seven years, but the WA Police Department reported investigating 23 incidents in just two years.

“It is hard to believe that the regulator could have accepted this level of reporting as a reflection of the real situation on the ground,” said Ms. Mettam.

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

Ms. Mettam praised the bravery of the victims who revealed their experiences.

A woman was told by her supervisor after a near-accident while driving a truck that he would drop the investigation if she had sex with him.

She was told to “get down on her knees if she wanted her shirt,” which meant a steady job at the mining company.

Another woman was knocked unconscious in her donga and woke up to find her jeans and knickers around her ankles.

The mining giants of Pilbara, Rio Tinto, BHP, and Fortescue Metals Group were among the companies that came before the commission publicly.

All three confirmed that they had fired employees for assault and intimidation.

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

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

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

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

FMG chief executive Elizabeth Gaines, who previously opposed the creation of a register of offenders, acknowledged that inappropriate behavior persisted despite efforts to improve security and a “zero-tolerance” policy.

A 2020 report by the Human Rights Commission found that 74 percent of women in the mining industry have experienced harassment in the past five years.

The Minerals Council of Australia said the industry is committed to eradicating sexual harassment and will continue to take further action.

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