Australia: Mining benefits 'not getting to Indigenous people'

Date of publication: 
21 May 2013

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A WA native title organisation is calling for greater community consultation over mining projects in remote communities.

A native title organisation has used an international mining conference to call for greater community consultation over mining projects in remote communities.

The concerns have been raised by the Yamatiji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation, a group which represents Traditional Owners in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

The corporation’s co-chairperson Doris Eaton has given a key speech at the International Mining for Development conference.

Ms Eaton has told Michael Kenny she believes many of the benefits from the resources boom are not flowing on to Indigenous communities.


Oxfam report mocks Native Title

by Gerry Georgatos –

20 May 2013

Oxfam Australia has added its weight to the controversy that domestically and internationally embarrasses Australia over how the resources sector and the various prescribed government bodies cheat Aboriginal land owners out of due benefits for access to land for mining projects. Oxfam has completed a study that has found that only one of the 53 biggest miners on the Australian Securities Exchange had a public commitment to the United Nation’s principles of informed consent for Aboriginal peoples.

OXFAM CEO, Helen Szoke said that Australian companies are circumventing the intentions of the Native Title Act and that informed consent is not being secured.

“We looked at the policies of companies specifically within the context of how they dealt with the issue of consent of Indigenous peoples to use their land,” said Ms Szoke.

“Disturbingly what we found is that the majority of companies do not have any transparent policies about how they gain that consent and how they go about negotiating with local Indigenous communities.”

“The second problem is if the negotiation process isn’t sorted out there is an enormously adverse impact on local communities.”

Last year the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and for Mining visited Australia while on a worldwide investigation on how the resources sector engages with Aboriginal peoples over compensation for Land Access Agreements and what mining benefits are returned to them. During much of his lengthy visit, Mr Anaya was accompanied by the National Congress’ co-chairs Les Malezer and Jody Broun. Mr Anaya visited Aboriginal Corporations, Traditional Owners and met with mining companies. He also visited the mining boom region of the Pilbara.

Mr Anaya focused his inquiries on extractive industries and to which he said that they pose “a major and immediate concern (for) Indigenous peoples all over the world.” Last year, Mr Anaya who is also a Professor of Law, announced that he would spend much of his second term prioritising the need for an international report on how extractive industries engage with Aboriginal peoples.

“The issue of extractive industries is a major and immediate concern of Indigenous people all over the world,” said Mr Anaya.

“I have seen examples of negligent projects implemented in Indigenous territories without proper guarantees and without the involvement of the peoples concerned.”

Mr Anaya had been involved in drafting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

He argues that there is a need for Governments to ensure good practices are enabled between Aboriginal peoples and the resources sector. He argues for legal and policy reforms that ensure the rights of Aboriginal peoples are secured in terms of benefits from mining being returned to them. He argues that the whole community should benefit and not just individual operators. He has argued for substantive returns from mining to Aboriginal communities.

The Oxfam report and Mr Anaya’s arguments are timely with the annual National Native Title Conference scheduled for the first week of June – in Alice Springs. There is much wrong on the Australian landscape with Native Title, with some of the resources sector ripping off blind Aboriginal communities, with the so-called mining boom having returned contextually little to Aboriginal communities, and with huge inconsistencies in compensation payments for Traditional Owners signing Indigenous Land Use Agreements.

Recent controversies with the Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett threatening Kimberley Aboriginal peoples with compulsory acquisition of their land for a gas hub have dogged Native Title into disgrace. More importantly the Office of the Registrar of Aboriginal Corporations (ORIC) and the National Native Title Tribunal (NNTT) have demonstrated inexplicable reluctance to investigate the many alleged improprieties that dog Native Title negotiations and agreements and how allegedly the resources sector circumvents Native Title or steamrolls Aboriginal peoples into signing (for peanuts).

It is a fact of life that some resource companies do not work with Aboriginal communities in terms of informed consent, that they hoodwink them and divide them, and all just to screw them out of a few dollars that would have made a huge difference to the Traditional Owners and their communities. Considering Australian Governments have failed to reduce horrific trachoma and otitis media rates among Aboriginal peoples let alone the horrific mortality rates. The funds that these communities have been screwed out could have made a difference to Aboriginal lives. It is fair to comment therefore that some within the resources sector are indirectly responsible for the increasing Aboriginal youth suicides and the horrific Aboriginal prison incarceration rates.

Two years ago the UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay described Australia’s treatment of Aboriginal peoples as “racism”. Recently, international documentary filmmaker and legendary journalist John Pilger investigated the ‘mining boom’ and how Aboriginal peoples are being ripped off.

“The story of the first Australians is still poverty and humiliation, while their land yields the world’s biggest resources boom,” wrote Mr Pilger in The Guardian UK on April 30.

“Barely a fraction of mining, oil and gas revenue has benefited Aboriginal communities, whose poverty is an enduring shock.”

“A mature society would not accept the myths that surround Aboriginal life right here in Australia,” wrote Mr Pilger.

In 2013, the annual National Native Title Conference will be convened by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) and the Central Land Council (CLC) on the traditional lands of the Central Arrernte people, the Native Title holders of the Alice Springs area.

Rest assured, that there will be changes to Native Title practices by end of the year but sadly they will not be favourable to Aboriginal peoples.

This year’s Conference title is “Shaping the Future” but for whom?

Themes of the Conference will include “The Native Title Act 20 years on, where to from here?” But to be honest, it should be back to the drawing board. The Native Title Act was skewed from its original moderate intentions by Prime Minister Paul Keating to a weak policy structure that allowed the resources sector and developers to steamroll Aboriginal peoples. The weakness in the Act is that negotiations between parties are to be had “in good faith.”

The Act was further watered down by Prime Minister Paul Keating. The Native Title Act has continued on as the outrageous (racist) joke that it has been ever since cheating Aboriginal communities out of opportunity and equality and turning not only Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples against each other but also Aboriginal peoples against one another.

The remaining themes of the Conference are how to manage the little returns Aboriginal Corporations secure from mining industries for their Traditional Owners – ‘development options’ and ‘Indigenous governance.’ The Conference would better serve impoverished Aboriginal peoples and Native Title holders if it instead themed Oxfam’s report – that only one of the 53 biggest miners on the Australian Securities Exchange had a public commitment to the principle of informed consent for Aboriginal peoples.