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Forestry and mining operations on the Tiwi Islands

CHAIR (Senator Birmingham) —I welcome everyone to this third day of hearings by the Senate Committee on Environment, Communications and the Arts in relation to its inquiry into forestry and mining operations on the Tiwi Islands. The committee’s proceedings today will follow the program as approved by the committee. These are public proceedings and I note for the benefit of witnesses and others that again we have members of the fourth estate present. If anyone has any qualms about being filmed by the media, please let us know.

The committee may agree to a request to have evidence heard in camera or may determine that certain evidence should be heard in camera. I remind all witnesses that in giving evidence to the committee they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee and such action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to the committee.

If a witness objects to answering a question, the witness should state the ground upon which the objection is to be taken and the committee will determine whether it will insist on an answer, having regard to the ground which is claimed. If the committee determines to insist on an answer, a witness may request that the answer be given in camera. Such a request may of course also be made at any other time. With those formalities over, I welcome everyone here today. I again extend our thanks to the parliament of the Northern Territory for hosting us today. I welcome Ms Liddy as our first witness. Thank you very much for taking the time to come and join us today. Would you like to make a brief opening statement or some introductory remarks to share your thoughts with us on the issues that you have come here to talk about.

Ms Liddy —Concerning this Great Southern forestry, I have been trying to ask them to stop from when they started. I try to get my people to understand that we need that land. They all thought they were going to get a lot of money for it, so there was just myself in this battle to try to stop it. So any assistance would make me very happy.

CHAIR —Thank you, Ms Liddy. When you say, ‘We need this land’, could you maybe talk us through why you think you and your people need this land.

Ms Liddy —A long time ago it was our way of getting our food. The trees and everything on the land is sacred to us. I really cried when they started the plantation, even before when the pine trees were put in I was asking them to stop. When I saw the Great Southern come in it was very devastating. They came in worse than a cyclone. We were told and the next minute it was done and we were all shocked, but I said, ‘You know you all agreed that you wanted the money’, but I wanted to find a way of getting help to try to stop them.

CHAIR —What efforts have you made with people on the islands and in the communities to try to stop the project and to influence the Tiwi Land Council in the decisions they have made about the project?

Ms Liddy —I did not go to the Tiwi Land Council at their meetings. I went to Great Southern meetings when they were talking to our people about this project.

CHAIR —So you went to meetings that Great Southern convened themselves and attempted to convey your concerns directly to Great Southern in those forums?

Ms Liddy —I beg your pardon?

CHAIR —You went to those meetings hosted by Great Southern and told them your problems with the forestry.

Ms Liddy —Yes, but I could not stop it. My people wanted it.

CHAIR —Now that nearly 30,000 hectares of trees have been planted, what do you think should happen from here on? We cannot unplant those trees, so what do you think would be a good outcome for your people and for the islands?

Ms Liddy —If there would be a better way for them to more or less take those trees away and plant our own trees back. That would be better.

CHAIR —Thank you, Ms Liddy.

Senator SIEWERT —I will follow on from that question. When you say, ‘Take those trees’, do you mean when they are ready for harvest, they take those trees and then replant them with native trees? Is that what you mean?

Ms Liddy —It would be better before they grow any bigger.

Senator SIEWERT —You think take them now and then repair the land?

Ms Liddy —Yes. Some of them are not very big.

Senator SIEWERT —What have you seen as the impact on the land when they cleared the native forest and put in the trees? What impact did you see on the land?

Ms Liddy —I used to run to the workers and ask them to stop. I used to be crying and asking them to stop killing our land. I have never felt so hurt in my life.

Senator SIEWERT —You felt it physically?

Ms Liddy —Inside, yes, it was devastating. When I used to drive around and see them and not be able to do anything I used to cry.

Senator SIEWERT —Did anybody talk to you before the land was cleared to ask what you felt about it before they started? I understand the pines went in a long time ago.

Ms Liddy —I was there when the pines went in.

Senator SIEWERT —Did anyone talk to you about it then?

Ms Liddy —I just saw them go there. I was not aware of what would happen.

Senator SIEWERT —When the acacia plantations—the new trees—went in, was there any consultation with you or your family then?

Ms Liddy —Again, only by talk—I heard people talking about it. When I saw how much clearing they had done I tried to step in when they came to the area where I wanted to live, my traditional land close to me. I started talking but it was then too late.

Senator SIEWERT —They had already started?

Ms Liddy —They were too far gone.

Senator SIEWERT —There are trees on your traditional lands?

Ms Liddy —They are very close by. I live at Condor Point which is nearly the top end of Melville.

Senator SIEWERT —Yesterday we were told where the trees are on the different land groups. Are trees on your family’s land?

Ms Liddy —Even when I turn off to go to my tribal land, there is a big plantation there.

CHAIR —Whereabouts are your lands? Which land group?

Ms Liddy —My site is a little outstation at Condor Point. There are only two houses there.

Senator SIEWERT —Could you point on the map?

Ms Liddy —I live up here.

Senator SIEWERT —Thank you for showing us.

CHAIR —For the record, Ms Liddy indicated Condor Point, which is in the Yimpinari land owner group area.

Ms Liddy —Yes, that is it.

Senator SIEWERT —What changes have you noticed to the animals, birds and waterways since the clearing started?

Ms Liddy —They would be starving by now. They are used to feeding off the island where work first started. Most of it has been cleared away with all their food, insects and everything. That would make a big impact.

Senator SIEWERT —When you went to the community meetings that were held with Great Southern, did they explain what they were doing in terms of any monitoring or anything like that?

Ms Liddy —I think that was pointless because the birds would not have enough to eat, only the big eagles. They only protected a couple of areas where they saw the birds’ nests, but the birds are used to feeding off the whole island.

Senator SIEWERT —I want to go back to how you were told about what was going on. Did the Tiwi Land Council hold any meetings to tell people what was happening?

Ms Liddy —We were actually at that meeting with Great Southern. Maybe there might have been one or two Tiwi Land Council representatives there when Great Southern took over, when I attended the meeting.

Senator SIEWERT —That was when Great Southern took over in 2005. Is that when they took over?

Ms Liddy —I did not go to the first lot of meetings. I went later when I saw how many trees they have taken. Most of the beautiful trees have gone and will never be replaced.

Senator SIEWERT —What we have heard through evidence previously—in Canberra and a little bit yesterday—about those trees that were taken is that they were sold overseas and that the Tiwi Land Council lost a lot of money through selling them. Did you ever find out about that?

Ms Liddy —I have never looked into the money business or anything. I just stood back and watched everything and heard everything.

Senator SIEWERT —Do you think that the Tiwi Land Council should be managing forestry?

Ms Liddy —I did not think they did. I did not think they had a lot of say in it when I attended the meetings, but maybe they had meetings that I did not know much about.

Senator SIEWERT —How do you get to ask questions if you had questions for the Tiwi Land Council and what activities they are doing?

Ms Liddy —I never bothered to approach the Tiwi Land Council.

Senator SIEWERT —Why is that?

Ms Liddy —They do not hold other meetings with us, with the local people.

Senator SIEWERT —They do not hold meetings?

Ms Liddy —But we are welcome to attend the meetings.

Senator SIEWERT —You can go and listen to their normal council meetings?

Ms Liddy —Yes. But I thought that Great Southern was running the whole show.

Senator SIEWERT —The Tiwi Island forest project is a joint project between Great Southern and the Tiwi Land Council and Tiwi. Did people know that?

Ms Liddy —I knew most of the decisions as they had to talk to the elders in that meeting. I did not know about joint elders, but I knew they held it as for only traditional owners of that area.

Senator SIEWERT —Where the actual forest—

Ms Liddy —Where the next project would be.

Senator SIEWERT —What we heard yesterday was that the rent for the land where the plantations are now goes to the groups where the forests are on their land, but it was said that everybody will then share in the profits from the plantation.

Ms Liddy —Yes.

Senator SIEWERT —Has that been talked about in the community? Do you know how they intend to do that sharing of the profits?

Ms Liddy —Recently there was some talk of people getting money from that forestry, but it is only if you go and ask for it.

Senator SIEWERT —Is that the land rent money?

Ms Liddy —It is not rent; it is for the planting of the trees in the area. It is for the area where they had planted the trees.

Senator SIEWERT —I think they call it rent for the land that the trees are on.

Ms Liddy —Yes.

Senator SIEWERT —As far as you understand, there has been no discussion about how the profits overall will be shared in the community?

Ms Liddy —Just talk from the people themselves. They would say, ‘We have got a food voucher from the land.’ Sometimes if there was money there they would ask for it for funerals. But I think it is not the big money they expected.

Senator SIEWERT —Are there jobs for Tiwi islanders? What is your view on that?

Ms Liddy —They used to do a lot of artefacts work. But now the people who do the artefacts have complained that they are finding it hard to get the material now for their artefacts. That used to be a good job for the Tiwi people to make their own little baskets and pukamani poles. Now they tell me it is really hard to find the timber because it has been all cleared and burnt.

Senator SIEWERT —Where the plantations are?

Ms Liddy —Yes.

Senator SIEWERT —A lot of the proponents of the forestry say it is good for development for Tiwi, for jobs and to build an economy on the Tiwi. What do you think the Tiwi should be doing to develop jobs on the islands?

Ms Liddy —Get them to study and put back our own plants that we had on the island and try to grow that instead of the other trees. Their favourite job was doing artefacts work. That has been more or less cut short.

Senator SIEWERT —One of the things that we saw yesterday, and we talked about, were the roads. The Great Southern said that they had developed a lot of the roads to get to the plantations but they make it easier for people to move around the islands. What do you think about the roads? Has the road development been good? Do you know how it was paid for?

Ms Liddy —I travel on the roads a lot. Two years ago it was really hard for me to move in and out of my home. Two years ago the islanders could not even go to their grand final football because the roads were just too boggy, there was too much wood on the road. I think that was from all the big trees being taken away and disturbing the whole thing. It even disturbed a beautiful waterfall we had.

Senator SIEWERT —Did the roads do that, or did the clearing of the native trees do that?

Ms Liddy —I put it down to that because we never got bogged in before that lot. It was for three or four months. That was nearly three years ago.

Senator SIEWERT —We were told that the roads have been significantly improved since the forestry went in.

Ms Liddy —They improved for a while, but as soon as the wet comes it becomes too hard.

Senator SIEWERT —It gets boggy?

Ms Liddy —Yes.

Senator SIEWERT —I have been told I have to stop.

Senator CROSSIN —Ms Liddy, thank you for coming over and talking to us today. You have an outstation at Condor Point?

Ms Liddy —Yes.

Senator CROSSIN —Where do you live when you are on the islands? Do you live at Condor Point?

Ms Liddy —Yes. I have to go to Snake Bay, Milikapiti, for my mail. I then go to Pulurumpi sometimes for my mail and shopping. Sometimes I have to go to Bathurst for a funeral.

Senator CROSSIN —Great Southern Plantations gave us a map yesterday and I noticed that on the map in your land area group, the Yimpinari, some forestry started there and trees were planted in 2006. More trees were planted in 2007 in your area. Did Great Southern talk to people in the Yimpinari group before that forestry happened?

Ms Liddy —Yes, I attended those meetings at that time.

Senator CROSSIN —Can you remember what they told you?

Ms Liddy —They said that we would be getting some money from the planting of the trees on that land.

Senator CROSSIN —For the rent of the land?

Ms Liddy —Yes, and to give it up for 33 years. I was the only one against it, but I was out-voted at the meeting.

Senator CROSSIN —How many people do you remember went to the meeting?

Ms Liddy —There were a couple of other traditional owners that lived close by me. There were some from Goose Creek where they are doing the mining now, which is not far from me, and there was Johnson. I did not take much notice, but there would have been a lot.

Senator CROSSIN —Was there a big mob or a little bit?

Ms Liddy —There were plenty of them.

Senator CROSSIN —On the land council, you have one trustee from the Yimpinari group and that person picks four other people to be on the land council. Do you know the names of those five people from your area on the land council?

Ms Liddy —That attended at that meeting?

Senator CROSSIN —No, that are on the land council now from your area.

Ms Liddy —My son was chosen about three or four years ago, but he got sick and had to pull out. The chairperson was Matthew Wannimiri at that time. He used to be the trustee for that area.

Senator CROSSIN —Do you know who the trustee is now?

Ms Liddy —He is a bloke called Bushy—I don’t know his other name.

Senator CROSSIN —Do you get to talk to him about the forestry and what you think about the forestry?

Ms Liddy —Yes, at one meeting we attended they did not want us around him because I am from a different area. He called himself Goose Creek. The forestry wanted a meeting there at one stage and we all attended. There were people from Johnson and Yimpinari and another area.

Senator CROSSIN —Is Goose Creek is in the north of the island?

Ms Liddy —It is close to where we stay.

Senator CROSSIN —You said they did not want people at the meeting. Who did they say they did not want?

Ms Liddy —They said they just wanted the Goose Creek mob, yet we were called at that meeting.

Senator CROSSIN —I see.

Ms Liddy —We went there to start the meeting but they said it was only for the Goose Creek mob. I said to Bushy that we were called to this meeting but he said that it was only for the Goose Creek mob. They wanted him to sign that paper to agree. I have nothing in writing, but I was there.

Senator CROSSIN —Why is that different? What usually happens?

Ms Liddy —They all have their say.

Senator CROSSIN —Everybody on the land is supposed to have a say, not just a little group of people?

Ms Liddy —Yes, all of us in that area. We have one trustee.

Senator CROSSIN —So they were just trying to pull one little group aside and talk to one little group?

Ms Liddy —Yes.

Senator CROSSIN —Did Bushy or the land council do that?

Ms Liddy —Bushy did not want to hear anything. He just signed it as soon as the people agreed. We had no say.

Senator CROSSIN —The part where most of the forestry happens on the island, do you go hunting a lot out in the Yimpinari area on your island?

Ms Liddy —There are a lot of buffaloes.

Senator CROSSIN —Is it too dangerous for hunting?

Ms Liddy —No, they go there and shoot the buffaloes when they want to.

Senator CROSSIN —What was special about the hunting and things you would find where most of the forestry plantation is? Was there anything different about that area?

Ms Liddy —Where I stay?

Senator CROSSIN —No, where the forestry is now.

Ms Liddy —Yes, as a child I grew up on the top end where they have all the forest. We all lived there and used to hunt there and used to enjoy ourselves round there. I learned to hunt so after I got married I showed my children how to hunt for food on the island and now I am teaching my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. There will be hardly anything for my great-grandchildren to see on the way they go to school as the forest has already taken over Pulingipi.

Senator CROSSIN —If you were used to hunting up around Snake Bay and Shark Bay now—

Ms Liddy —Yes, most of it is seafood. I am wondering whether the fertilisers they are putting on there might destroy our seafood now.

Senator CROSSIN —Are you saying that your main hunting areas up around the Shark Bay area now are all forestry?

Ms Liddy —All the islands, we all hunt in the mangroves.

Senator CROSSIN —And up around there is forestry now?

Ms Liddy —There is a lot of forestry there. They have nearly taken most of the island. You know where I live and the centre of the island is all taken by forestry. The main forest where all the big trees and hollows and everything are have all been destroyed now.

Senator CROSSIN —In this inquiry we have heard from people who want the forestry to happen, and we have heard from people who are very upset about the forestry and do not want it to continue.

Ms Liddy —Others, but mostly women, were a bit upset because us women do a lot of hunting. We tried to put in a petition but did not get anywhere.

Senator CROSSIN —We have a copy of that petition. Is signing a petition the way you can show people that you are not happy? Is that something that the Tiwi people can do? Is it unusual to sign a petition?

Ms Liddy —We just thought if we did that it would stop it, but we got nowhere.

Senator CROSSIN —I am going to ask you a question you do not have to answer if you do not want to. We asked the Tiwi Land Council yesterday why there were no women on the Tiwi Land Council. I think it is a matter that even federal ministers have asked questions about even in the last government. It is because of the way the trustees are appointed and then they appoint four more people. The answer we got was that the Tiwi Islands is a men’s society, that it is a patriarchal society where the men own the land and only the men should have a say. Do you want to give us a comment about that? You do not have to if you do not want to, but I am just interested if you have a view about that.

Ms Liddy —I must admit that they asked me if I wanted to be on the council. I said no because I was trying to get my little outstation started at that time. They have asked me a couple of times but some things I did not like that they were doing. For instance, I did not like that pine tree.

Senator CROSSIN —Did you say no to being on the council because you were busy starting your outstation?

Ms Liddy —Yes, I was doing other things.

Senator CROSSIN —Did you not think that if you got on there you might be able to ask some hard questions of other people and make some changes?

Ms Liddy —I think I might not have agreed with some of their decisions.

Senator CROSSIN —Is that a reason not to get on it? Do you think they only want people on there who agree with them? Did you not think that if you got on the council you could disagree and make some changes?

Ms Liddy —They had a couple of women at one stage, but I do not know what happened there.

Senator CROSSIN —They indicated to us yesterday that they do not want women on the council because it is not what women do on the island. Do you think the time is coming when women would want some changes and want to be able to get more women on the council?

Ms Liddy —Yes, it is really up to the young people. Most of them would be busy as they would all have young families. You notice that most of them are elders in the land council—there are not many young people.

CHAIR —What sorts of opportunities do you think there are for young people at present on the island? What sort of life do you think young people on the island have in front of them at present?

Ms Liddy —The education only goes as far as year 12. None of them went to university, so there are work limits. They could train them to be able to do jobs that other people do, such as running the council and all that.

CHAIR —Do you things have become better or worse for young people on the island over the last 10, 20 or 30 years?


CHAIR —In what ways do you think they have become better?

Ms Liddy —If they could have a better education they could do all the council work. They could be taught to take over the jobs of running the island such as the shire council.

Senator SIEWERT —Yesterday we were told about—and you touched on it a little bit before—how the money for the land the trees are planted on—the rent for the land—is shared. When the money is shared with your group, is it only going to the mob that have got the trees on their land?

Ms Liddy —Yes.

Senator CROSSIN —So you do not get any because it is not on your specific land?

Ms Liddy —There is one bit, which is close when I turn in. They get some money for that.

Senator CROSSIN —So it is not shared across the whole group?

Ms Liddy —Just for the ones who ask for it. Sometimes they go and they would say that there is no money left.

Senator CROSSIN —Then they ask for it and it depends what they ask for.

Ms Liddy —There is no money. The money has been taken and no money is left.

Senator CROSSIN —Do you mean that there is no money left in your group’s account?

Ms Liddy —Yes.

Senator CROSSIN —So then they have to wait for the next lot of payments.

Ms Liddy —Yes, the next lot.

Senator CROSSIN —If you wanted to, could you ask for it?

Ms Liddy —Yes, I am entitled.

Senator CROSSIN —You are entitled to it even if it is not on your land. When they had that meeting about putting the forest on your land, which is the mob they talked to that you were not allowed to talk to?

Ms Liddy —They have a councillor. They have to go to him to see if there is money there and then they ask him.

Senator CROSSIN —Thank you.

CHAIR —Ms Liddy, thank you very much for coming in and talking to us today. It takes a lot for anybody to come and give evidence in these types of forums and we appreciate your making the time and effort to be here.

Ms Liddy —Another thing I want to say is that that land is sacred. Nobody living nowadays knows where their ancestors have been buried. It is sacred land; it is like digging up their graves what Great Southern has done.

CHAIR —Thank you, Ms Liddy.

[9.52 am]