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Thursday, 30 April 1987
Page: 2063

Senator KILGARIFF(12.02) —In a letter which appeared in today's Australian newspaper the Chairman of the Northern Land Council, Galarrwuy Yunupingu, has said that Aboriginal traditional owners do see a role for mining on Aboriginal land. That view is one I certainly support, knowing that many Aboriginal people see mining development on their land as a means of bringing an end to their present heavy reliance on government funding through social security and the like. The letter in the Australian today is very timely. I have shown a copy of it to the Minister and I seek leave to have it incorporated in Hansard as it relates to Aborigines and mining, subjects we are discussing now.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-

Aborigines and mining

As the people who are most affected by mining on their land, Aboriginal people have much to contribute to the debate on mining in the Northern Territory, the subject of a special report (18/4).

Ninety per cent of the billion dollars a year current mineral production in the NT comes from mines on Aboriginal land.

There are many traditional owners, myself among them, who do see a place for mining on Aboriginal Land.

Aboriginal interest in mining is clearly apparent in statistics drawn from the Bureau of the Northern Land Council's latest review of mining negotiations in the council's area.

Apart from the four major mines operating on Aboriginal lands in the NLC area (Ranger, Nabarlek, Nabalco and Gemco), we have also signed 13 agreements for exploration since the NT and Federal Governments lifted their bans on exploration on Aboriginal land in 1982.

One of these agreements, in a highly prospective area of Western Arnhem Land, covers not only an exploration phase but also mineral production.

In addition we have agreements for two mineral lease areas at Koongarra and Jabiluka, which have not been acted on because of the Federal Government's `three mines policy' on uranium. The traditional owners want these mines to go ahead and have in fact actively campaigned for them to go ahead.

Currently the Northern Land Council, on behalf of traditional owners, is negotiating on 14 exploration licence applications with seven exploration companies.

There are 200 exploration licence applications over Aboriginal land in the Northern Land Council area and of these, 91 have not been actively pursued by the exploration companies in that they have not provided proposals to the council. In another six cases the company has said they are not interested in negotiating at this time.

There are 11 exploration licence areas where the traditional owners have sought, but still wait, proposals from the mining companies.

While there have been 26 mining proposals which have not been accepted by traditional owners there are 44 cases where Aboriginal people have either entered into agreements, are negotiating or are awaiting proposals.

Of the 26 proposals which have not been accepted, six involve rejection of only part of the areas sought in the applications.

The rational development of mineral resources on Aboriginal land does not require change in legislation, nor a change in attitude by the Aboriginal people who are the owners and custodians of traditional lands. What it does require is a radical change in the attitude of mining companies and governments towards the right of Aboriginal people.




Northern Land Council


Senator KILGARIFF —I dispute Mr Yunupingu's claim that this mining development, which so many traditional owners want, will be able to take place without any change to existing land rights legislation. History does not support this assertion. In the eleven years since the land rights legislation was enacted, only one agreement for a mining lease on Aboriginal land has eventuated. I say one agreement, although I notice that Mr Yunupingu in his letter says that 13 agreements were signed. This differentiation will have to be looked at further. Given that the area within the conservation zone will, by virtue of this legislation, become available for claim by Aboriginal people, the Minister must acknowledge that this will be a further discouragement to prospective mineral exploration and development. I cannot see mining companies, in spite of the potential of the region, feeling comfortable putting hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars into a region for any future exploration, notwithstanding the uncertainty created by the limited five-year exploration period, when their work could go down the drain once a land claim is slapped on the area.

The Minister can make all the reassuring noises he wants in this chamber about his Government acting responsibly in relation to multiple land use and reconciling competing interests, but he knows full well that what he and his Government are doing is condemning billions of dollars worth of resources to waste. As we have touched on land claims, can the Minister say whether the Government is aware of the extent of land claims which might be anticipated in this area?