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Issue #1700      September 2, 2015

Wik people in mine law fight

Young Wik leaders Gina Castelain and Llyle Kawangka followed their Elders’ footsteps to the High Court last week, as they prepare for another fight with the Queensland government to protect their people’s rights. The Wik and Wik Waya people’s registered native title body, Ngan-Aak Kunch Aboriginal Corporation (NAK), achieved a significant first step in the High Court, after it ordered the state to file a defence by September 16 to NAK’s writ to overturn a piece of Queensland law.

NAK is seeking to have the so-called “Aurukun Provisions” of the Mineral Resources Act struck down by the High Court.

The “Aurukun Provisions” were inserted into the Act in 2006 to fast track the mining of bauxite deposits in lease RA315, near Aurukun. The Wik people have said that the provisions suspend the right to appeal or object to decisions made by the Queensland government and that they are the only landholders in Queensland affected by these special provisions. NAK will argue before the High Court that the provisions offend section 10 of the Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act.

The Newman government awarded preferred proponent status to mining giant Glencore, after a tender process. However, NAK had signed an agreement with miners Aurukun Bauxite Development (ABD), and had entered into an Indigenous Land Use Agreement with the company.

NAK director Mr Kawangka said ABD pledged a package of measures to NAK, including part-ownership through a 15 percent undiluted equity share, seats on the board and up to 300 local jobs.

“Our people have fought for decision-making rights over our land for 40 years,” he said. “We don’t want to wait for royalties from a big mining company, which is just corporate welfare. We want to be mine owners.”

The Young Wik leaders delivered a letter to Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Deputy Premier Jackie Trad last week, asking for their urgent reconsideration.

Surprise

The Labor government had agreed to revisit the mine tender process but in a move that surprised the NAC, last week announced they would ratify the former government’s decision to award Preferred Proponent status to Glencore.

“The Aurukun provisions were introduced by the Premier’s father Henry, who was Minister for Mines in 2006, and we are hoping that the Premier will take a personal interest in the matter – that’s why we are making this personal plea,” Ms Castelain, who is a Wik native title holder and director of ABD, said.

Members of NAK said they were deeply upset and frustrated that the government was not prepared to work with the Wik people to “set an exciting precedent in how miners and Indigenous land holders can work together”.

On August 15, Queensland Mines Minister Anthony Lynham flew to Aurukun for a meeting with Glencore.

NAK members say they and representatives from the Cape York Land Council, including chair Richie Ah Mat, were initially excluded from the meeting.

“The minister came to tell us about the decision to appoint Glencore as the miner, but won’t tell us the details of Glencore’s offer to native title holders of our land. It is wrong,” Mr Kawangka said.

NAK chair Jonathon Korkatain said the government should be having a proper conversation with the native title holders. “My question to the minister was: If Glencore was the proponent, I’m the chair of the native title body. They bypassed me, not negotiating with me or communicating with me. At the meeting when I heard the proponent was Glencore, I got upset about that,” he said.

“They should be coming to the traditional owners and the board that represents the traditional owners. We are the people to make those decisions, to make sure the traditional owners understand this process.

“I know that this mine will give our people the good opportunity, but let us make the right decision. It is not up to other people to make that decision for us.”

Koori Mail

Next article – Capitalism Delenda Est – (Carthage must be destroyed)

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