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Unconventional Gas Mining
Adequacy of Australia's legislative, regulatory and policy framework for unconventional gas mining

ANDERSON, Mr Robert, Traditional owner

ANKIN, Ms Rosita, Traditional owner

DOWADI, Mr Andrew, Traditional owner

FITZPATRICK, Mr Nicholas, Traditional owner

HOOSAN, Mr Gadrian, Traditional owner

MASON, Mr Eddie, Traditional owner

WILLIAMS, Ms Helen, Traditional owner

YARRNGU, Ms Molly, Traditional owner

CHAIR: I welcome the Mataranka traditional owners, traditional owners of Arnhem Land and Protect Arnhem Land.

Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. The committee has a submission from Protect Arnhem Land, which the committee has numbered submission 115. If anybody has any questions about parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses make yourselves know and the secretariat will be more than happy to answer any of those questions for you. I invite you to make a short opening statement, and after you have spoken I will invite the commttee to put questions to you.

Mr Anderson : I am also a pastoralist, at Manangoora station, pastoral lease 685, portion 0408. Besides being a traditional owner I am the chairman of a committee we made in Boroloola through the Northern Land Council. Through that we work in the Commonwealth structure. What we are doing at the moment is finding some funding we hope to get some things worked out. The case may be about this certain thing that we may have to talk about, but as I introduced myself, as we go along I will be happy to answer any questions. If anybody likes to ask me any questions you are welcome to do it.

CHAIR: Does anyone else want to make an opening statement?

Ms Williams : I am from Maningrida, in Arnhem Land. The population of Maningrida is 3,000. I am a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. I am here to talk about the children's future as well as having a healthy and happy environment and having beautiful water like we are having here now with us. I would like to talk about a few good things that we want to talk about, that you want to listen to from us and be able to take a message from us. I am quite happy to give you some of the stories. Thank you.

Mr Mason : I am the founder of Protect Arnhem Land. I am here to talk about why this mob want to come and destroy my country when I have got everything there that I need. That is the reason I come here to talk about that—no poison or nothing on my land. That is the reason I come with my other colleagues here. We want to try to get to you guys to tell them that we are not for sale, my people are not for sale and the land is not for sale. We want to keep our culture as it has been going for generations. We are teaching our children the same thing. We would like to hear the government tell us a good story about how we can work together and maintain and look after our country. That is all.

Mr Fitzpatrick : I am a junkiyi for my country. Junkiyi means carer and protector of the land. I am here because I am genuinely concerned about what is going on in the country with all of this mining activity. There is a huge problem there. We could pollute our country. It will all happen so fast you will not even realise it.

Mr Hoosan : I am a Garawa man from Borroloola. Nicholas is my cousin brother. We are both junkiyi for our mother country. It is our job to look after our mother country. We are seeing a lot of things that happen in our country. We sit right into the Garawa Land Trust. We have got licences, exploration permits, all around the land trust on the pastoral area and native title.

Uncle Jonsie is also my uncle. We came here today to make sure that you know we do not want this thing to happen. We want to let everyone know in parliament that we are here to talk for the country and make sure the country is safe because we need our waters. We have the McArthur River already contaminated. With fracking were going to face double trouble. We need to stop that now before it is too late. It is not just for us. This mob here talked about our future generation. That is the main thing. Our future generation is important. They have to live in this country in the future when we are gone. We want to make sure that they live in a clean environment in the future. This country is for them.

Mr Anderson : I would like to add about being a junkiyi. These two fellas on my left are my gaathus. Gaathu means that they belong to my sister's kids. Junkiyi is not only the protector of the land. I am junkiyi for them and we are junkiyi for each other. We also look after each other and not our own backs. Junkiyi is a form of a very cultural structure. Junkiyi actually means manager and, if it was used in the old court, judge, jury and executioner. That is the true meaning of what junkiyi is.

As I have noticed through the political ways, the traditional owner owns the land and that is from your father, but when you are junkiyi that is from your mother. When you are junkiyi you can paint and talk stories about your mother's country but you cannot do it for your father because it is taboo. If we did that, we would be breaking the law. Our law and culture is there for everyone. It does not matter who you are. All we would like to do is explain. We know two laws.

We are not supposed to mention these old people's names. When we say moranji, someone who has passed on, we cannot mention it. Just to explain it to you I will have to name these people. There was Leo Finlay in that video, Don Miller and old Splinter Woody. That was taken on North Island. This was many years ago.

There is a follow on of the two laws. My gaathu Adrian is in that as well. What the two laws is all about—because we know ours and we also know yours—we would like to share with you. Because we know two laws and you do not know ours—you do, but—I would like to put in the technical details so that way everyone can have a good understanding. There will also be another one done with that. What we would like to do is share it out to everyone. Pass those copies out so at least everyone gets a good understanding.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Anderson. Have you had any consultation with gas and mining companies? If you have, are you happy with the process so far?

Mr Anderson : Sorry, I forgot to tell you this. As a pastoralist, what happened on Maningrida station is that the gas company came through our property without any formal written letter to get permission. They have made roads, and the worst thing they have done is driven and smashed our fences down. We have cattle and horses and our calves and foals in there. I am trying to explain that they did not ask us permission for what they did, and we did not know that because we were busy working in other areas, because we were having a bad drought. What happened was that our foals and calves were getting that weak, and there were dingoes. But we did not know that, because we were looking after here and there, because we breed our own stock horses as well for working purposes and for gymkhanas, rodeos and the pony club for kids. Then we came back and saw our fences gone and all our cattle scattered all over the place. We had to remuster them and redo our fences. There was not even a thankyou. That is reality. Our animals are outside getting eaten by dingoes, but the dingoes are not doing anything wrong; they are just looking for a feed. What hurt us is that they should have asked us first, and they did not have permission.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Anderson. In your dealings with these gas and mining companies, do you feel they have got your best interests at heart? Are they dealing with you in an appropriate manner?

Mr Mason : They are not dealing with us in an appropriate manner. We started this Protect Arnhem Land—for five years. They never told us what the problems are going to be after they have gone—where they are going to put all their rubbish, where they are going to put all the poison. We are worrying about that. Who is going to end up cleaning it up at the end of the day when they are all gone? We had reports from the United States that there is leaking and that everything is going to go wrong in the steams and everything, that it would even pollute our waters.

I go back to the brother who was talking about the cattle and everything there. We all eat meat here. We love our meat. If that goes down the well and the horses and cows want to drink the water, it will start killing the cattle. We eat the meat from the cattle mob, the pastoralists. Think about that now. If you put poison in our streams then you feed that to the horses or the cow, what does that mean you are going to eat after that? You want to think about that—it is very important—before you put the poison down in our ground. It is not only our ground; it is everybody's ground—white and black.

Ms Williams : It is two areas, all fracking, but we talk about the pastoralists and the saltwater country—the beaches, the shoreline, everything. We do not want any oil or gas running along the sea line, because it will ruin our hunting ground. It will ruin everything—the beautiful water. Just like all the animals of the pastoralists—it will ruin their drinking water and even the mussels we collect, or the crabs or the fish. Maningrida is a beautiful place. We do not want to see this big thing standing there, with a machine. We just want a really clear and clean environment in the Northern Territory. Here we are all together talking about one thing: please, we do not want fracking. We do understand about this gas. With this mob, we need more consultation to make other people understand. Sometimes it is very hard for people who do not understand. They say 'yes'—and, click, dollars, money on my land. If one says yes, it will affect the whole of the country. We are trying to educate the people about the environment. Maningrida has 10 different language groups. It is a huge place, not like Borroloola. And we are talking about not only Manangoora but also along the coast of Arnhem Land and in the Arnhem Land and inside the pastoralist area, around the Katherine are, wherever. That is the story now, from me.

CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Williams. Mr Dowadi?

Mr Dowadi : I just want to say: respect the peoples who live in the land, respect the peoples who own the place, because of the animals that live in there, because the water has to be good for drinking, and respect those people who have lived there long enough. But we did not know those things that you were going to do, these things that are damaging all the stuff. There are things that are living on from the old generations so we can pass them over to our children, to educate our children, to live alongside—instead of living in towns, or with poison things leaking everywhere. We have to teach them how to look after themselves when they go hunting, especially at the seaside and inland. That is the meat that we eat, that is the water that we drink out of, on the land. That is why we have to be respectful. But we did not know these things were going to be happening in these years. If I die, those kids will not understand. You have to respect those people who are living there. What do you call it when you have an accident, when you get sick and there is a financial thing that pays you—if you are doing your job and you break your arm and everything, they pay for it?

Mr Mason : Insurance.

Mr Dowadi : Insurance, I am talking about. The animals do not have any insurance. They live free, like us. We live with them. They feed with us, and we drink with them at the stream and at the seaside. The things that live there are good things like crabs, oysters, turtles, anything—you name it. And inland we have turtles, emus, buffalos and everything. We eat those things.

If you put those things in there, how are we going to go hunting? Who is going to pay for us in our sickness? Who is going to pay us for our coffins? All those things, we do not understand. Those things that you are digging out there—we do not know anything about it; only you know. We know nothing about it. We are a free people who live there, the longest to have lived there, to look after our land.

CHAIR: Thank you. I just want to ask, and anyone can answer: do you think the land trust is accurately representing your people?

Mr Mason : The land council?

CHAIR: Yes, the land council, sorry.

Mr Anderson : I am the chairman of a committee and we have just finished working on a native title claim. May the old fella rest in peace: Mr Mabo—sorry to mention his name. It went to the Queensland border, and that is also up to Blue Mud Bay. The only gap was Borroloola. So what we did from the Queensland border we added it on to Blue Mud Bay. So we joined that up. Also, next door to Manangoora station is Greenbank Station—like us again pastoral activities—and Seven Emu and Spring Creek; they are also under native title. Now, with this committee, we talked with our people about King Ash Bay, which is like Manangoora: we have a tourist industry running as well and we have crabbers working there. Because there are so many tourists going to King Ash Bay, it is getting overcrowded. Native title is all about protecting the land. I said at the meeting, 'We cannot have too many people there. What we have to do with the tourists is spread them out, because, if you are all in the one spot, you are going to take fish, crab, whatever, and it will be gone. Then you move to the next spot and the same process happens.' An old fella down there who is a good old mate of mine from King Ash Bay agreed, because I said, 'You go to King Ash but you can't even put your trailer in, there's so much.' So what we agreed upon was we were going to spread all the tourists around. Also, the sea rangers are working very well and we are going to actually have a sea ranger base also at Vanderlin Island, because the tourists go out there as well, also to North Island, West Island and South West Island.

If you look on Google at the map, by jingo, that is beautiful, pristine country—untouched. But what it is ALL about is that everybody in this room, all of us, share it. Anybody is welcome.

It is beautiful country. Besides fishing, there are feral pigs—which do damage, and the sea rangers down there are doing nothing—and we on the committee are making industries so that we can take tourists out pig hunting. A lot of people enjoy that. I was down in Newcastle four months ago visiting my daughter. Most of them come from there. A lot of them are our mates. Besides taking them out pigging, we show them bush tucker and tell the stories of our sacred sites. We have got dingo dreaming, bulgur dreaming and all those kinds of things. We explain all this to them and they are so amazed, and I say, 'Mate, you are welcome here any time; this country belongs to you.'

CHAIR: Senator Peris, I will hand over to you but I think Mr Mason would like to say something.

Mr Mason : Yes. Like brother Anderson said, we are starting up a business at Maningrida to do pig and buffalo hunting and barramundi fishing and we are starting up a fishing industry and we can provide work for our people in that area. Instead of the oil and gas company coming in and drilling and offering us money to start working on that land, we can make our own money and our own living. We have a lot of things there that we can trade with you. That is the plan for us back at home. We can sell things that we have over there and we can give it to you guys and you can export it and sell it somewhere—oysters and crabbing and industries like that.

We do not want this gas and oil company coming there and digging and destroying everything. If we destroy it we cannot sell anything. That is the difference between you and I. We are starting up a business over there. We can start a business with you guys in the government. There are a lot of things there that we can offer you, but we cannot give over our land for them to destroy it.

Mr Fitzpatrick : Can I say something?

CHAIR: Sure.

Mr Fitzpatrick : I used to work for the Sea Ranger unit in Borroloola. I came straight out of high school. I have always been very passionate for country, so I was always in these NLC meetings when it came to mining people coming in and being interested in our country. I was young. I was 17 when I started in ranger unit. When you are young like that, you cannot really stand up; you have let the elders have the say. So I was just sitting back and soaking in everything that was happening and I saw the way the NLC work with mining companies. The meetings that they organise are not organised properly. They tell people the day before or just two days before the meeting, and they send out word that everybody is going to get this royalty. There is no information about what is really going on; it is all about the royalties. Everyone is interested in the royalty and they turn up and they will pretty much sign anything just to get to the end of that meeting where they get to talk about money, and they just get jammed. I have seen that happen lots of times. So the NLC is not for the people. What we really need is our own land council, where we can stand up and come to real deals for our country, instead of just being tricked and deceived.

Ms Williams : I have been on the board for 15 years and I am still on the board for the Northern Land Council. I have seen it; I have witnessed it. I wanted to give up and I thought, 'No; I will still fight on.' A month ago we had a meeting at Katherine and we were talking about this fracking. But when they started talking about mining, I said, 'I don't want to hear about mining; here we go again—mining, mining. Aren't you guys going to ever support us by saying no to fracking? You represent the land and the sea. You say, 'This is our land; our life. Where is it? Where is our land and life?'

Some of the members do understand and some do not. I think it comes from the higher position. That is what I really want to know. It is like that young fellow said. I am still on the board and I am still fighting them. I feel like giving up but I do not want to because of what the people said. All they are interested in on their land is traditional owners. They do not understand what that man said earlier—the junkiyi. I am the junkiyi of [inaudible] to my mother country. They do not recognise [inaudible]. They recognise only TOs. So they go head to head with the NLC talking to TOs. They asked, 'What about us? You have to respect us, too, and listen to us. The other people are the TOs of their own country—from their homeland—so can you also talk to them, because they are human? We are all human.' That is a story I wanted to tell you. I am still on the NLC board I will keep on fighting.

Senator PERIS: Mr Hoosan, you visited me recently in Canberra. For the committee's interest, would you like to share your experience of what is going on in Borroloola at the moment and the experience you have had with mining there and what is happening now on the McArthur River?

Mr Hoosan : The McArthur River is not our country. It is on Gudanji country. What is happening on the McArthur River right now is that all of the poison coming out from the McArthur mines is running into the river and has already contaminated it. They had no right to contaminate that river. All of that poison should stay in the mining lease. We used to fish on that river from the top to the bottom. That was our livelihood, and they took that away from us. We cannot even eat the fish any more. We have strangers coming down there and telling us, 'You can eat only a little bit of that fish. Don't eat too much of it.' We used to cook and eat a whole lot of that fish. We have strangers telling us this. They are people who don't even live in Borroloola or even have a house in Borroloola.

This is the sort of thing we are facing and now we have to face fracking. That is going to make it worse. They are going to damage the whole McArthur Basin. All the poison is going to migrate underground and come up in the river beds underneath and then come up into our tap, and what is going to happen? Our tap is going to be poison. You can turn it on and have a flame coming out of the tap. We have seen all of that happen. We have already experienced all of that around the country. We have seen that happen in America and in Queensland. We know of all the bad things that will happen from fracking. That is the whole reason why we are here. The whole reason I am here is for fracking. It is not to bring up any other issues. That is the only issue I am here to talk about, because we already have the McArthur River mine damaging the country. They cannot even stop the waste rock from burning. They stacked all the clay up to stop it, but they cannot. If they cannot take control of that, they cannot take control of fracking.

That country is important. It is important for our food generation and for our sacred sites and for our dreaming sites. If you hang a book in front of you and read your stories and you have a missing story in there, what has happened? If you have a ripped page you have a missing story. If you rip a dreaming site out of our country you are ripping our story off the land, and our story is bigger than the book you are holding in front of you. It is in the land. Our land is important to us. People do not understand it, but we understand it. All of this mob here understand it, because we all look after the land. That is what we are here for. We are here to stand up for the rights of our country and future generations.

Senator PERIS: Thank you. I appreciated your visit to Canberra recently. Would you like to elaborate on those points, Mr Anderson.

Mr Anderson : Going back to the spillage of the mine, what happened was that the contamination went further than they thought. I was born on the beach on Vanderlin Island, in 1967. The McArthur River Mine has got lead, zinc, copper, a little bit of gold and arsenic. Fair enough, arsenic dilutes, but there is all that lead. Around all those islands is the sea, and when it comes in it acts like a washing machine. Vanderlin Island is 30 kilometres long and 15 kilometres across. When my uncle was alive, he said to me that there were fish from one end of the island right up to the top. He said to me, 'You know what, son? There are even fish in the deep blue sea that you don't see.' So what he did was grab some samples. Old Mr Garrett—Midnight Oil—was the environment minister at that time. So I gave him the sample, but that sample never came back. The old fella tried to explain about the fish, but it seems that nobody wanted to believe him. The truth is: why didn't they investigate it? It is covering up.

We mention tourists going fishing. Fish is our livelihood; it is a healthy food. Besides that, what was on the news? Back in those days we could hear the trawlers out the back. They would get prawns from there and take them over to Japan. Do you know what? We do not hear any more trawlers out there, because those prawns were contaminated. Nobody knows about that. I forgot, because I was busy looking after my horses and cattle and so forth. That is the sad truth. I do not think there are any trawlers out there anymore. The country is coming back now, because, like I said, the sea is a washing machine, so it actually cleans itself out. We had a big flood and we tried to tell them what happened to us who work at that mine. The tailings dam broke. And what was there before the tailings dam, before they put in that diversion, was a little creek called Barney Creek, which flows into the McArthur River. So it all went out there. Going back to Senator Lazarus: the gas company is Armour Energy. I just remembered.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Mr Anderson : You're welcome.

Senator PERIS: Mr Mason, I know you are the founder of the Protect Arnhem Land. Could you tell the committee where things are at now. I know your resilience continues with the fight for country.

Mr Mason : It always continues with us. There has never been a moratorium or anything like that. Every time we start up a moratorium for five years, it is on again straight after Christmas: the government is down our throats. They do not give us a break for five years—no. After Christmas has gone they are there at my front door; they are there. They want it badly. When all my workers are on holidays or I am away from there, they come down, banging on the door, talking to other people who do not understand about this problem. They talk to them. But before they do that, they ought to say, 'I will talk to Mr Mason; he knows all about this issue here,' so the people will call me. Then I would tell them, 'Whoever that government person is down there, tell them don't talk to him until we get it sorted out again.' They always come down and sneak in behind my back—every time. When we start up a moratorium for five years, the next year they down our throats. We give them a fair go. Let's have a break for five years, and then we will talk about it after—but no. After Christmas, they are down there in our backyard.

How can we stop this? I can't stop them because they are the government. They keep coming and forcing, forcing. I told all my old people, all my elders and the seven or 12 or so tribes that I respect down there, that represent Arnhem: 'Whoever goes down there or whoever the government person or oil company is who goes down there, before he talks to you tell him to call me.' I represent those seven or eight tribes people over there. There are really 12 tribes that I have there. I am representing them because they are the ones who have put me in this position. I have got to take the story back to them, whether it is a good story or a bad story. On the moratorium, I told them, 'Come on. Give us a break.' No. Every year they are down our throats—every year. It happens all the time.

When I talked to the oil company, they said, 'We'll give you five years break and then after five years we'll have a talk.' Nothing. Then after Christmas they are down there. When all my people are not there, they come behind and talk to the old people who do not understand English and everything, bribe them with rrupiya, bribe them with money—everything they want. [Indigenous language not transcribed] But I told them already—all my people. I said to them, 'Whatever government comes round there or any person who wants to come trying to sell your country or anything, tell them to call me or talk to the environment group over here, and we will sort it out.' I will tell them.

It took them five years to understand what we are dealing with here now. It took us three years, when we went to Canberra. They did not understand about this oil and gas thing—what is going to happen. Then we met Naomi Klein. She wrote that book called This Changes Everything. We met her in Melbourne. She told us about what is going to happen and what has been happening over in the USA and all that. It gave us a full insight of the story, of what is going to really happen if this goes ahead. We have seen the pictures and we have seen what the story is.

I showed that to my people. They looked at it and they said: 'No, we don't want this. We want our way, the way we are living. Think about your ancestors. Think about your dreaming. Think about all the culture over there.' That is what they told me. I got the story here for them, to tell to our tribe back at home there, representing them.

It has been going on and on. It has been about six years now, and we are still fighting over this. Maningrida is a last frontier. There is no damage, nothing done to it. It is a peaceful country. It is a beautiful country. Nothing has been damaged here. It is just as it has been for the last century. And we want to keep it that way for the next generation. We do not want this poison coming to our boundary—not only me but everybody too, whoever owns the land. They do not want it and we do not want it, all this—what do you call it?—industrial disease coming to our area.

Senator PERIS: Ms Yarrngu, do you want to say anything?

Ms Yarrngu : Yes, because this is part of our life—our life. We are looking at our life. My life is dirt; your life is book. What we are fighting for is a very important part of our life and our surviving. We own the land, and we are fighting for our future generations to stay like that. But, in the other hand of law, it is coming in, coming in: 'I just want you to break your promise.' That is here. To me, in my heart, I do not want to break my promise. I have to follow that promise that was given to me—the nature. Nature gave me that knowledge and the life, the way I can survive and grow and make life and home. But on this other hand it comes and pushes me to make me break my promise. Well, what are you begging for? The water is life for you to survive. With no water, how are you going to survive? So this is what we are fighting for—the book of knowledge and the native knowledge.

That is where I was born. No light. I saw the sun, the stars and the moon. After, I was taken to be educated. We are in a mix—cultural life, destroying our life. I experienced that. You have that judge law; I have that judge law. Understand who I am because my land is my life—and your life. We are not going to live in the indoors. So what is the danger that is coming behind our back?

CHAIR: We are running out of time. Senator Waters, do you have any questions?

Senator WATERS: No, but I have been listening intently, and I want to say thanks to everyone for speaking up. I am deeply grateful that you are able to speak with us and give us your views directly, so thank you.

CHAIR: We have run out of time, but I know there are a couple more people—

Mr Dowadi : Are we allowed to ask you questions?

CHAIR: No, that is what we are here for—to ask you questions.

Mr Dowadi : No, we should know you. We should know your background too, you know. It is a part of—

Witnesses then spoke in language—

Mr Dowadi : making sure.

Mr Hoosan : Just one more before we leave. We are not only doing this for ourselves, for our future generations. We are doing this for both future generations, non-Indigenous and Indigenous people together, because we all have to live in this country. It is for us both.

Mr Fitzpatrick : Can I just say one more thing.


Mr Fitzpatrick : See this country. We do not own that country. The country owns us. The mob here now is the part of the small group that is still that country—when you give your mind and soul and heart to your country, it talks to you. It is talking to every one of us. It is very worried. We have to do something—Australia, global warming; it is all happening now within these next 10 years. Our country is talking to us, and if you listen hard enough it will talk to anybody.

Mr Anderson : Right.

Mr Fitzpatrick : We have to do something to protect Australia from collapsing.

Ms Yarrngu : Mother Nature.

CHAIR: Mr Fitzpatrick, you appear to me to be a very knowledgeable young man. What future do you see yourself having and your children having if this continues?

Mr Fitzpatrick : I see a future of pain and suffering and loss—yes, lost connection. It is just really sad. It would be living a really sad life—that the human race in our country here could not come to the terms and see all the reality that is happening everywhere and decide we need to change now before it is too late.

Mr Mason : For you, I would say: leave me alone and let me run my own business and look after the land myself.

CHAIR: Mr Mason, if I were the Prime Minister, you would not have anything to worry about, let me tell you.

Mr Anderson interjecting—

CHAIR: I am not in the government, but I wish I was sometimes!

Ms Williams interjecting—

Mr Mason : You stay on your side of the fence; I will stay on my side of the fence.

CHAIR: That is it. That is exactly right.

Mr Anderson : Can I say something to everyone in this room?


Mr Anderson : We are all spiritual people, and, when you go out bush, you hear that quiet. You hear the old people. They are singing. You can hear them cry. It does not matter if the wind is blowing. You hear them crying. We are all spiritual people. And, if that happens, there is a heaven, and it is right here.

CHAIR: All right. We have to wrap it up there. I am sorry. Thank you very much for coming. Thank you.