Rio Tinto waives $300,000 electricity bill to Arnhem Land school after error made public
Rio Tinto has waived a miscalculated $300,000 electricity bill to a primary school in Arnhem land, one day after the bill was made public.
The ABC reported on Sunday that Nhulunbuy primary school, about 650km east of Darwin, owed the mining giant $300,000 in underpaid electricity bills.
A spokeswoman from the NT Department of Education said the underpayment was detected by Rio Tinto and it notified the school in mid-2020.
The accidental debt was accrued in just over two years, with the bill miscalculated between December 2016 and April 2019, the department said.
The story prompted a wave of criticism of Rio Tinto on social media.
It comes just days after the company announced a reshuffle intended to “focus on rebuilding trust and strengthening external relationships across Australia” after the destruction of the ancient Juukan Gorge rock shelters in Western Australia.‘Rio is still on notice’: native title groups say mining company’s reshuffle is mainly PRRead more
The reshuffle was announced by the new global CEO, Jakob Stausholm, whose predecessor, Jean-Sébastien Jacques, resigned over the Juukan Gorge incident.Advertisementhttps://7a65eacc9dac233fa993af20fbd5a2b6.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
A spokesman for Rio Tinto told Guardian Australia on Monday that the company had decided to waive the miscalculated electricity costs.
“Upon review and consideration with the Northern Territory Department of Education, Rio Tinto will waive past power costs that were inaccurately billed to the Nhulunbuy primary school,” he said.
“We understand how important accurate information on costs are to local partners and will work hard to prevent any such billing errors in the future.”
The education department said the school had previously negotiated a payment plan with Rio Tinto, which the company agreed to, but was contacted by Rio to say the bill would be waived.
“The department is appreciative of the goodwill extended by Rio Tinto and thank them for waiving the bill,” a spokeswoman said.
Rio Tinto had been providing electricity to the school for 48 years.
Brynn O’Brien, from the Australian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, said it was “difficult to understand” why Rio Tinto had not waived the bill immediately, “given the pressure they are under to improve their relationships with communities”.
“This is not going to do their reputation any favours as they seek to move on from the Jacques era,” O’Brien said.
The National Native Title Council has previously said that Rio Tinto was “still on notice” with regard to its treatment of First Nations people and heritage, and described the reshuffle announcement – which did not make reference to the company’s management of Indigenous heritage – as “a bit of PR spin”.
Guardian Australia has contacted the NT Department of Education for comment.