Australian news, and some related international items

Proposed changes to Western Australia’s Aboriginal Heritage Act for benefit of mining companies

handsoffFast track approvals should be dumped: KLC ABC News 6 Aug 14 By Nicolas Perpitch Proposed changes to Western Australia’s Aboriginal Heritage Act have been labelled discriminatory, amid calls for them to be dumped and the act rewritten. In a scathing submission, the Kimberley Land Council (KLC) also warned the amendments would disenfranchise Indigenous people.

KLC chief executive Nolan Hunter said the draft bill focused power in the hands of one bureaucrat – the Department of Aboriginal Affairs’ chief executive officer. “This is a totally bureaucratic government process, so we pretty much will be disenfranchised in terms of having a say once all this is set,” he said.

“This basically discriminates against Aboriginal people. It favours the state’s position.”

Currently the Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee (ACMC), established through the act, provides advice and recommendations to the Aboriginal Affairs Minister on heritage sites. Fast track’ authority for permits handed to CEOMinister Peter Collier revealed the draft bill in mid-June, saying the pace of economic development in recent years, particularly in mining and construction, had highlighted inadequacies in the current legislation.

The draft bill would speed up the approval process for mining and other development by giving the Department of Aboriginal Affairs chief executive officer “expedited” or “fast track” authority to declare whether or not an Aboriginal heritage site existed.

The CEO would be able to issue land use permits when he or she decided a site would not be significantly damaged or altered.

Submissions on the draft amendments have been overwhelmingly critical of the proposed changes, in particular the new fast track approvals process. The KLC and other land councils, Aboriginal corporations, the Law Society of WA, individuals and anthropologists such as La Trobe University’s Nicholas Herriman have argued the new process would largely cut out Aboriginal people.

The Law Society, in its submission, said the proposed amendments stripped the ACMC of its evaluative role and predominantly shifted power to the CEO, who was not obliged to consult with Aboriginal people or to apply anthropological expertise.

Mining and other companies could appeal decisions but no statutory right of review was provided for Aboriginal custodians or traditional owners.

“The lack of such a right again negates the claim that these amendments are increasing the strength of the voice of Aboriginal people or that the amendments increase accountability,” the Law Society said.

The Goldfields Land and Sea Council pointed out the Government had not specified the process to be followed by the CEO in making his or her decisions, raising concerns about “the validity of any decision made”.

“It remains that the most significant issue raised by the proposed amendments to the act is that the regulations that will govern how it will operate are not yet available,” the land council wrote in its submission…………

‘Streamlining development’ aim of act: council

National Native Title Council CEO Brian Wyatt said the changes were not primarily directed at heritage protection.”There’s no real will or desire by government to protect heritage. It’s all about streamlining the processes of development,” Mr Wyatt said.

The KLC also stressed a new section in the act making it a criminal offence not to declare potential heritage sites could force land councils and representative bodies to break the law. There would be fines for people, other than traditional owners, who did not report sites or objects.

Mr Hunter said traditional owners disclosed information to consultants, development proponents and representative bodies on a legal, confidential basis and that arrangement could fall foul of the new provision.

“It sets a default position where we can be subject to a criminal prosecution with very little culpability on our part,” he said.

“How can you create legislation that compels you to break the law?”

He called on the Government to dump the draft bill and start again……….

Submissions on the draft amendments to the 42-year-old act close this week following an eight-week public consultation period.

August 6, 2014 Posted by | aboriginal issues, politics, Western Australia | Leave a comment

Green MP Robin Chapple’s submission on the Aboriginal Heritage Legislative Changes

Chapple, Robin Greens W.A.These matters are especially important given the lack of both review/appeal processes and

compensation processes in the Act and Bill for Aboriginal peoples facing damage to or

destruction of their heritage.

Dear Chief Heritage Officer

Feedback on the Aboriginal heritage legislative changes

Thank you for the opportunity to provide feedback on the Aboriginal heritage legislative


I would like first to acknowledge that the Aboriginal Heritage Amendment Bill 2014 makes

improvements, for example the extension of time in which to bring a prosecution, the

provision of express penalties where these are currently lacking, and the increased

penalties for offences.

The Bill also seems likely to deliver on its promise to deliver better quality registers, and the

inclusion of a historic record of all approvals should assist with monitoring compliance.

The Bill also seems likely to deliver on its promise to deliver faster decision making, and the

prescribing of processes for decision-making would make those processes more certain

and transparent.

However, on the draft legislation currently available, and particularly in the absence of draft

regulations, I am not at all satisfied that the legislative changes will effectively improve

either the protection of Aboriginal heritage or adequately involve Aboriginal peoples in that

process. At the end of the day, protection of Aboriginal heritage is what the Act is for. Continue reading

August 6, 2014 Posted by | aboriginal issues, politics, Western Australia | Leave a comment

Bob Hawke sees importing nuclear waste as solution to Aboriginal disadvantage!

briberyBob Hawke: nuclear waste storage could end indigenous disadvantage.  Former prime minister says Northern Territory leader Adam Giles supports idea, despite rejection of Muckaty dump plan  in Arnhem Land, Sunday 3 August 2014 “….. Hawke said he was confident that the answer to long-standing indigenous socioeconomic problems was to allow radioactive waste to be stored on Aboriginal land, and use the revenue to improve living standards.

Speaking at the Indigenous Garma festival in the Northern Territory, Hawke said he had met Adam Giles, the territory’s chief minister, to discuss the idea and had got a favourable response……..”.I believe I have the answer. I’ve discussed this proposal with Adam Giles, who tells me he’s been approached by a number of elders who, like himself, are keenly supportive of the proposal.”

Despite having some of the largest deposits of uranium in the world, Australia has maintained a long-standing opposition to nuclear power and storing radioactive waste from overseas.

In June, traditional Indigenous owners in Muckaty Station, north of Tennant Creek, triumphed in a seven-year battle to stop domestic nuclear waste being dumped on their land……..

he stressed that the solution would give Australia “the capacity for substantial new expenditure on indigenous Australians”………Dave Sweeney, a nuclear-free campaigner with the Australian Conservation Foundation, said Hawke’s proposal was a “bloody disgrace”.

“Here you’ve got a privileged white man standing up saying this rubbish should be dumped on systematically disadvantaged people’s land,” he told Guardian Australia. “It’s offensive and it’s dumb.

“For more than 20 years Aboriginal communities at multiple sites in South Australia and the NT have mobilised and defeated federal government plans for a national radioactive waste dump on their country, most recently at Muckaty. To think that they will accept an international dump is fanciful.

“To put forward that the best way to address the shameful state of the economic and structural disadvantage of the world’s oldest continuing culture is through hosting the world’s worst industrial wastes is a profound and perpetual policy failure.”

August 4, 2014 Posted by | aboriginal issues, AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, wastes | Leave a comment

How the Aboriginal people of Maralinga lost traditional knowledge due to atomic bombing

The Radiation That Makes People Invisible: A Global Hibakusha Perspective Robert Jacobs The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 12, Issue 30, No. 1, August 3, 2014.

“…….Loss of traditional knowledge– In some remote places survival is dependent on centuries old understandings of the land. In Maralinga, Australia the areas where the British conducted nuclear tests between 1956 and 1963 are very difficult places to live. Traditional communities in these areas often have songs that hold and transmit essential knowledge about how to survive in such a harsh environment, such as where to find water, when to hunt specific animals, when to move to various locations. But can knowledge gathered over millennia be effectively applied to radiation disasters?

When the British relocated entire communities to areas hundreds of kilometers from their homes, the local knowledge chain was broken. It became impossible for the refugees to sustain a traditional life in areas where they had no knowledge of the rhythms of the land and animals. This removal from their lands led to ever increasing dependence on governmental assistance and severed what had been millennia of self-reliance. While self-reliance had been dramatically impacted by the brutal rule of the Australian government and its policies towards aboriginal peoples, the people living near the test site were still living on the land in the 1950s. Relocation led to the further erosion of community, familial and personal wellbeing………….

August 4, 2014 Posted by | aboriginal issues, AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, South Australia | Leave a comment

Tony Abbott’s top Aboriginal adviser, Warren Mundine is a nuclear industry lobbyist

Mundine-puppetEnvironmentalists respond to Warren Mundine’s attacks  1 Aug 2014, Jim Green, Indymedia Nuclear lobbyist “………..Mundine’s role as a lobbyist for all things nuclear has been particularly offensive. In June, Muckaty Traditional Owners in the NT won a famous victory, defeating the efforts of the Howard−Rudd−Gillard−Abbott governments to impose a nuclear waste dump on their land. The racism could hardly have been cruder, with bipartisan support for legislation overriding the Aboriginal Heritage Act, undermining the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, and allowing the imposition of a nuclear dump with no Aboriginal consultation or consent.

Mundine’s contribution to the eight-year battle of Muckaty Traditional Owners? Nothing. Silence.

In February 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd highlighted the life-story of Lorna Fejo − a member of the stolen generation − in the National Apology in Parliament House. At the same time, Rudd was stealing her land for a nuclear waste dump. Fejo said: “When are we going to have fair go? I’ve been stolen from my mother and now they’re stealing my land off me.”

Mundine’s response to Lorna Fejo’s plight? Nothing. Silence.

When Muckaty Traditional Owners finally won their battle, Marlene Nungarrayi Bennett said: “Today will go down in the history books of Indigenous Australia on par with the Wave Hill Walk-off, Mabo and Blue Mud Bay. We have shown the Commonwealth and the NLC [Northern Land Council] that we will stand strong for this country.”

And it was indeed a famous victory. No thanks to Warren Mundine. He could have spoken up for Muckaty Traditional Owners in his previous role as National President of the ALP; he could have spoken up as a self-styled Aboriginal ‘leader'; he could have spoken up as a Director of the Australian Uranium Association and co-convenor of the Association’s ‘Indigenous Dialogue Group’ (which made no effort to establish dialogue with indigenous people); and he could have  spoken up as head of the Indigenous Advisory Council. But he remained silent for eight long years.

Mundine says Australia has “a legal framework to negotiate equitably with the traditional owners on whose land many uranium deposits are found.” Bullshit. Only in the NT do Traditional Owners have any right of veto over mining. And even then, sub-section 40(6) of the Commonwealth’s Aboriginal Land Rights Act specifically exempts the Ranger uranium mine in the NT from the Act and thus removed the right of veto that Mirarr Traditional Owners would otherwise have enjoyed.

Another example ignored by Mundine: in 2012 the NSW government passed legislation which excludes uranium from provisions of the NSW Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983. Nothing equitable about that.

And another example ignored by Mundine: In 2011 the SA Parliament passed amendments to the SA Roxby Downs Indenture Act 1982, legislation governing the Olympic Dam copper/uranium mine. The amendments retain exemptions from the SA Aboriginal Heritage Act. Traditional Owners were not even consulted. The SA government’s spokesperson in Parliament said: “BHP were satisfied with the current arrangements and insisted on the continuation of these arrangements, and the government did not consult further than that.” Nothing equitable about that.

And on it goes. The Western Australian government is in the process of weakening the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 at the behest of the mining industry. Nothing equitable about that….”


August 1, 2014 Posted by | aboriginal issues, AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, politics | Leave a comment

Warren Mundine’s allegiance is to Tony Abbott, not to the Aboriginal people

Mundine-and-AbbottEnvironmentalists respond to Warren Mundine’s attacks  1 Aug 2014, Jim Green, Indymedia

“……….Tony Abbott’s ‘kindred spirit’  Abbott describes himself as John Howard’s political love-child and he describes Mundine as a “kindred spirit”. Mundine’s willingness to provide political cover for Abbott knows no bounds. Abbott said Australia was “unsettled or, um, scarcely settled” before European invasion and Mundine said he knows Abbott’s “heart is in the right place” and ”we just need to do a bit more education, within the government, on this area.”

Mundine said that the Abbott government’s cuts of more than $500 million from indigenous spending over the next five years are not as bad as had been planned while praising the government for listening to the Indigenous Advisory Council. And when confronted with hostility from indigenous people for his role on the Indigenous Advisory Council, Mundine said he doesn’t represent anyone but Prime Minister Tony Abbott!

Gary Foley wrote about Mundine’s “bromance” with Tony Abbott in Tracker magazine in August 2013: “It would seem at the present time that the former National President of the ALP, Mr Warren Mundine, has momentarily eclipsed the Cape York Crusader Noel Pearson as the Aboriginal Man of the Moment. Whilst Mr Mundine may lack the intellectual firepower of Noel Pearson, he has nevertheless elbowed his way to the front of the pack with his dazzling late-life conversion to the cause of all things Tony Abbott. Mundine’s strategic realignment to become best buddies with Abbott at the beginning of the 2013 federal election campaign may have been a surprise to some, but only those who have not been taking notice of Mundine’s mundane comments on Aboriginal matters over the past few decades.”

Abbott said he wants to be a ”Prime Minister for Aboriginal Affairs” and wants to make a ”new engagement” with indigenous people one of the ”hallmarks” of his government. But there’s nothing new about finding opportunists like Mundine to provide political cover for a racist government. That tactic is tried and tested. Only the names change…….


August 1, 2014 Posted by | aboriginal issues, AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL | Leave a comment

Huge Aboriginal death toll when Europeans invaded – should be recognised

Australian War Memorial should recognise revised Aboriginal death toll: researcher, Brisbane Times July 17, 2014  Brisbane Times and Sun-Herald journalist New research that has calculated an Aboriginal death toll of more than 65,000 in Queensland alone during the so-called frontier wars has renewed calls for formal recognition at the Australian War Memorial.

But the AWM in Canberra has dismissed the idea, saying recognition should instead be in the National Museum.

The research, presented to the Australian Historical Association’s Conflict in History conference last week at the University of Queensland, estimated 66,680 deaths between 1788 and 1930.

Of those deaths, 65,180 were indigenous, which is more than six times what was previously thought. The report’s co-author, historian Professor Raymond Evans, said the calculations were based on official records, witnesses’ reports and the number of patrols undertaken by the colonial Queensland government’s Native Police.

Professor Evans said the 65,180 figure was “conservative” and could be as high as 115,000.

“This is just Queensland – imagine what the nation-wide figure could be,” he said.

“If you say it’s a war, you at least allow the fact that Aboriginal people fought hard to defend their lands, so you can say they were warriors and they were fighting for their country. “They were fighting for Australia, for their land.”

Professor Evans said the estimated death toll was at least on a par with Australian casualties during World War I.

“The Australian War Memorial should recognise this as a war. It’s got such a high death rate, it was fought over a long period of time and it was fought between different communities, different nations, for territory,” he said.

“It’s a fight for land and territorial possession and it has many features of warfare and, of course, a huge death rate.”

July 21, 2014 Posted by | aboriginal issues, AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, Queensland | Leave a comment

History of the Aboriginal fight against nuclear waste dumping in South Australia

South-Australia-nuclearhandsoffThe nuclear war against Australia’s Aboriginal people, Ecologist  Jim Green 14th July 2014 Dumping on South Australia “……….The failed attempt to establish a dump at Muckaty followed the failed attempt to establish a dump in South Australia. In 1998, the Howard government announced its intention to build a nuclear waste dump near Woomera in South Australia.

Leading the battle against the dump were the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta, a council of senior Aboriginal women from northern SA. Many of the Kungkas personally suffered the impacts of the British nuclear bomb tests at Maralinga and Emu in the 1950s.

The proposed dump generated such controversy in SA that the federal government hired a public relations company. Correspondence between the company and the government was released under Freedom of Information laws.

In one exchange, a government official asked the PR company to remove sand-dunes from a photo to be used in a brochure. The explanation provided by the government official was that: “Dunes are a sensitive area with respect to Aboriginal Heritage”.

The sand-dunes were removed from the photo, only for the government official to ask if the horizon could be straightened up as well. ‘Terra nullius’!

In 2003, the federal government used the Lands Acquisition Act 1989 to seize land for the dump. Native Title rights and interests were extinguished with the stroke of a pen. This took place with no forewarning and no consultation with Aboriginal people.

Victory in the Federal Court

The Kungkas continued to implore the federal government to ‘get their ears out of their pockets’, and after six years the government did just that.

In the lead-up to the 2004 federal election – after a Federal Court ruling that the federal government had acted illegally in stripping Traditional Owners of their native title rights, and with the dump issue biting politically in SA – the Howard government decided to cut its losses and abandon the dump plan.

The Kungkas wrote in an open letter: “People said that you can’t win against the Government. Just a few women. We just kept talking and telling them to get their ears out of their pockets and listen. We never said we were going to give up. Government has big money to buy their way out but we never gave up.”

The Kungkas victory had broader ramifications – it was a set-back for everyone who likes the idea of stripping Aboriginal people of their land and their land rights, and it was a set-back for the nuclear power lobby.

Senator Nick Minchin, one of the Howard government ministers in charge of the failed attempt to impose a nuclear dump in SA, said in 2005:

“My experience with dealing with just low-level radioactive waste from our research reactor tells me it would be impossible to get any sort of consensus in this country around the management of the high-level waste a nuclear [power] reactor would produce.”

Minchin told a Liberal Party council meeting that “we must avoid being lumbered as the party that favours nuclear energy in this country” and that “we would be political mugs if we got sucked into this”……..



July 19, 2014 Posted by | aboriginal issues, AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, history, South Australia, wastes | Leave a comment

Maralinga: Australia’s cheap and nasty treatment of Aboriginal people

The nuclear war against Australia’s Aboriginal peopleEcologist  Jim Green 14th July 2014  Australia’s nuclear industry has a shameful history of ‘radioactive racism’ that dates from the British bomb tests in the 1950s, writes Jim Green. The same attitudes have been evident in recent debates over uranium mines and nuclear waste, but Aboriginal peoples are fighting back! The British government conducted 12 nuclear bomb tests in Australia in the 1950s, most of them at Maralinga in South Australia.

Permission was not sought from affected Aboriginal groups such as the Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara, Tjarutja and Kokatha.

Thousands of people were adversely affected and the impact on Aboriginal people was particularly profound.

Many Aboriginal people suffered from radiological poisoning. There are tragic accounts of families sleeping in the bomb craters. So-called ‘Native Patrol Officers’ patrolled thousands of square kilometres to try to ensure that Aboriginal people were removed before nuclear tests took place – with little success.

‘Ignorance, incompetence and cynicism’

The 1985 Royal Commission found that regard for Aboriginal safety was characterised by“ignorance, incompetence and cynicism”. Many Aboriginal people were forcibly removed from their homelands and taken to places such as the Yalata mission in South Australia, which was effectively a prison camp.

In the late-1990s, the Australian government carried out a clean-up of the Maralinga nuclear test site. It was done on the cheap and many tonnes of debris contaminated with kilograms of plutonium remain buried in shallow, unlined pits in totally unsuitable geology.

As nuclear engineer and whistleblower Alan Parkinson said of the ‘clean-up’ on ABC radio in August 2002: “What was done at Maralinga was a cheap and nasty solution that wouldn’t be adopted on white-fellas land.”

Barely a decade after the ‘clean-up’, a survey revealed that 19 of the 85 contaminated debris pits had been subject to erosion or subsidence. The half-life of plutonium-239 is 24,100 years.

Despite the residual contamination, the Australian government off-loaded responsibility for the land onto the Maralinga Tjarutja Traditional Owners.

The government portrayed this land transfer as an act of reconciliation, but the real agenda was spelt out in a 1996 government document which states that the ‘clean-up’ was “aimed at reducing Commonwealth liability arising from residual contamination.” ………..

July 19, 2014 Posted by | aboriginal issues, AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, history, South Australia | Leave a comment

In Australia Nuclear interests trump aboriginal rights

The nuclear war against Australia’s Aboriginal people, Ecologist  Jim Green 14th July 2014 Nuclear war“……….Muckaty Traditional Owners have won a significant battle for country and culture, but the problems and patterns of radioactive racism persist. Racism in the uranium mining industry involves: ignoring the concerns of Traditional Owners; divide-and-rule tactics; radioactive ransom; ‘humbugging’ Traditional Owners (exerting persistent, unwanted pressure); providing Traditional Owners with false information; and threats, including legal threats.

One example concerns the 1982 South Australian Roxby Downs Indenture Act, which sets the legal framework for the operation of BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam uranium mine in SA.

The Act was amended in 2011 but it retains exemptions from the SA Aboriginal Heritage Act. Traditional Owners were not even consulted. The SA government’s spokesperson in Parliament said:

“BHP were satisfied with the current arrangements and insisted on the continuation of these arrangements, and the government did not consult further than that.”

That disgraceful performance illustrates a broader pattern. Aboriginal land rights and heritage protections are feeble at the best of times. But the legal rights and protections are repeatedly stripped away whenever they get in the way of nuclear or mining interests.

Nuclear interests trump aboriginal rights

Thus the Olympic Dam mine is largely exempt from the SA Aboriginal Heritage Act. Sub-section 40(6) of the Commonwealth’s Aboriginal Land Rights Act exempts the Ranger uranium mine in the NT from the Act and thus removed the right of veto that Mirarr Traditional Owners would otherwise have enjoyed.

New South Wales legislation exempts uranium mines from provisions of the NSW Aboriginal Land Rights Act. The Western Australian government is in the process ofgutting the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 at the behest of the mining industry.

Native Title rights were extinguished with the stroke of a pen to seize land for a radioactive waste dump in SA, and Aboriginal heritage laws and land rights were repeatedly overridden with the push to dump nuclear waste in the NT.

Most of those laws are supported by the Liberal / National Coalition and Labor. Radioactive racism in Australia enjoys bipartisan support.

Muckaty Traditional Owners have won a famous victory, but the nuclear war against Aboriginal people continues – and it will continue to be resisted, with the Aboriginal-ledAustralian Nuclear Free Alliance playing a leading role Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth, Australia, and editor of Nuclear Monitor.

Nuclear Monitor has been publishing deeply researched, often strongly critical articles on all aspects of the nuclear cycle since 1978. A must-read for all those who work on this issue!

July 19, 2014 Posted by | aboriginal issues, AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, politics, uranium | Leave a comment

Warren Mundine, Abbott’s appointed Aboriginal adviser plans to sue Fairfax media

Warren Mundine planning to sue Fairfax THE AUSTRALIAN JULY 14, 2014 12:00AM 
Victoria Editor Melbourne
THE Prime Minister’s senior ­indigenous adviser, Warren Mundine, plans to sue Fairfax after he was accused of brokering a “highly questionable deal” that gave a mining company ­access to an Aboriginal sacred site in Western Australia.

“The allegations against me published in Fairfax Media last weekend are false,” Mr Mundine says in the statement to be ­released today.

July 17, 2014 Posted by | aboriginal issues, AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, legal | Leave a comment

Need for transparency in Australia’s Aboriginal policy

Mundine-and-AbbottFirst principles owed to our first people July 14, 2014 The Age Transparency, accountability and rigorous governance are tenets of good public and corporate policy. Without them, there can be little confidence that outcomes will be decent and fair, let alone optimal.

The Age‘s investigative team on Saturday revealed that conflicts of interest compromised the process and outcome of a land deal that gave a mining company access to an Aboriginal sacred site in Western Australia. The evidence raises concerns that the traditional owners of the land, the Martu people, have shamefully been denied the financial benefits they ought to have received.

It also casts doubt on the judgment and suitability of the federal government’s indigenous policy supremo, former ALP national president and head of the Indigenous Advisory Council Warren Mundine, because a company he part owned and of which he was a director helped broker the deal. The company, Indigenous Investment Management Pty Ltd (IIM), was appointed by mining company Reward Minerals to negotiate the deal to mine for potash at Lake Disappointment with the organisation supposed to be representing the Martu people’s interest, the Western Desert Lands Aboriginal Corporation.

The probity of the deal is brought into question by a clear potential conflict of interest: the chief financial officer of the corporation also held shares in IIM. IIM succeeded in getting the corporation to abandon its opposition to allowing the mining company access to the sacred site. Further, confidential advice to the corporation’s board from its lawyers said the negotiation process had “no validity” and had put directors and executives at risk of breaching legal obligations to act honestly and eschew self-interest.

Mr Mundine’s integrity and competence need to be seen to be beyond reproach, as his national leadership role involves a delicate balance. He is seeking to prevent the corruption that can sully indigenous organisations receiving mining money, while promoting Aboriginal economic development by opening up more land…….

In coming days, Mr Mundine and Prime Minister Tony Abbott are meeting to discuss a report that could revolutionise the participation of indigenous people in the economy. This newspaper considers improving the lot of Australia’s indigenous people one of the most pressing issues for our nation. Our investigation casts doubt on Mr Mundine’s authority to lead such overdue and crucial change.

July 17, 2014 Posted by | aboriginal issues, AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL | Leave a comment

Doubts about legal advice to Aborigines about Lake Disappointment mining deal

justiceLegal advice questioned controversial mining deal: July 15, 2014 Richard Baker and Nick McKenzie More legal advice has emerged questioning the process that led to a controversial deal between a West Australian aboriginal corporation and a mining company.

Fairfax Media has obtained advice from a third in-house lawyer for the Western Desert Lands Aboriginal Corporation which cast doubt over the process that lead to a deal with Reward Minerals to mine a Martu sacred site in outback WA called Lake Disappointment.

At the weekend, Fairfax Media revealed how two other in-house lawyers for the Western Desert corporation wrote an explosive July, 2011 memo warning that a soon-to-be signed deal with Reward had “no validity”, in part because the corporation’s board and executives had, in their opinion, not acted in the best interests of the Martu people.

A 2009 email reveals that a separate in-house lawyer for the corporation also raised concerns about the Martu people not having given “proper informed consent” to an in-principle agreement signed with Reward to mine Lake Disappointment a year earlier.

In March, 2009, the Western Desert corporation’s then in-house lawyer, Christina Araujo, emailed acting chief executive Tony Wright to advise that she was not “prepared to state that I believe WDLAC has the informed consent of the common law holders” because it could put her practising certificate at risk.

“Tony, further to our conversation on the 6th of March, I am confirming in writing concerns I have in relation to the Reward negotiations,” Ms Araujo wrote. “Apart from my personal observations, I have also had discussions with a number of others who were also of the view that proper informed consent is or may be lacking.

“Going through the files, it appears Katherine Hill [another legal adviser], on numerous occasions provided advice on proper informed consent and it is noted in a file note dated 16/10/2007 that she spoke to Joe Procter and Clinton Wolf about her concern that people did not seem to understand there was a mining proposal over Lake Disappointment.

“It does not appear in the files that the matter was discussed in detail with the common law holders … it is an issue for WDLAC if we do not have informed consent for the Reward matter. Any agreement which may result may be invalid.”

Mr Procter was a consultant helping the Western Desert corporation negotiate the initial 2008 deal and Mr Wolf was then the corporation’s chief executive.

Ms Araujo’s March, 2009 email came at the same time the Native Title Tribunal heard Martu elders testify about the cultural significance of the Lake Disappointment site.

The tribunal was asked to rule on Reward’s proposal after relations between the mining company and the Western Desert corporation stalled in mid-2008 amid an argument over legal costs. In a historic ruling, the tribunal rejected Reward’s bid on the basis of Lake Disappointment’s cultural importance to the Martu people. It was the first time the tribunal had refused a mining company’s application.

But, as reported by Fairfax Media at the weekend, the Western Desert corporation altered it stance on the Reward proposal in 2011, despite strong doubts from another set of in-house lawyers about the negotiation process not being conducted in the best interests of the Martu people.

Ms Araujo’s successors as the Western Desert corporation’s in-house lawyers warned that the Reward negotiation process had in their opinion put the corporation in breach of most of its legal obligations as the trustee body for Martu people.

In a January, 2011 announcement to the Australian Stock Exchange, Reward revealed it had in late 2010 approached the Western Desert corporation to re-open talks over Lake Disappointment.

On April 1, 2011, Reward announced to the ASX: “Reward has appointed Azure Capital and its affiliate Indigenous Investment Management (IIM) as advisers to assist in discussions with the Martu traditional owners.”

Company documents show at the time of this announcement that IIM’s shareholders and directors included former Western Desert chief executive Mr Wolf, senior Azure Capital executives and Warren Mundine, who was last year appointed as the federal government’s top indigenous adviser.

Another shareholder at this time was the Western Desert corporation’s chief financial officer Mr Wright.

Mr Mundine has confirmed that he was not personally involved in the negotiations nor benefited from the deal.

Western Desert corporation chief executive Noel Whitehead and Mr Wolf said external legal advisers were engaged in 2011 to ensure the deal was done properly and fairly.

Reward this week rejected any inference its negotiations over Lake Disappointment were unfair. It said independent legal and financial advisers were involved and great care had been taken to treat the Martu people with respect.

July 17, 2014 Posted by | aboriginal issues, legal, Western Australia | Leave a comment

Aboriginal land rights and economic prosperity

Env-AustRICH SOIL: CAN INDIGENOUS LAND RIGHTS AND AUSTRALIA’S ECONOMIC INTERESTS COEXIST? RIGHT NOW, By Christine Todd 14 July 14  The Indigenous population in Australia has a long and proud history of careful land management. In the many centuries preceding British colonial settlement, Aboriginal people maximised productivity of the land, using their knowledge of navigation, the tides and the cyclical nature of the seasons to regulate their travel and food supply. They worked in tandem with the land; where the land didn’t suit their needs, they managed burns to clear undergrowth and fuel, with new growth luring grazing animals to hunt. Ecological management shaped the land and ensured continuity and balance.

With colonial settlement came European ideas of what it meant to manage the land. European agriculturalists worked the land to the extent they needed within their boundary fences. Lost was the management of the land as a cohesive, sustainable whole, replaced by a fragmented, needs-based exploitation of the land to achieve economic ends.

Dispossessed from the land they knew so intimately, entire Indigenous communities were often placed on reserves that remained under the control of the Crown. Even here, the right to merely exist on reserve land was not secure, if the government of the day chose to revoke use of the reserves.

Economic development in Australia and the management of traditional Indigenous land has been viewed as mutually exclusive, if not directly conflicting.

In 1963 the Commonwealth government chose to do just that, granting mining company Nabalco a long-term mining lease on Yirrkala Aboriginal Reserve in Arnhem Land. Home to the Yolgnu people, the decision provoked anxiety in the local community. A now-famous bark petition was organised by the Yolgnu to illustrate that the excised land was sacred to them, and vital to their present-day livelihood.

Despite a strong community response, the government ignored their claims to the land, instituting the Mining (Gove Peninsula Nabalco Agreement) Ordinance 1968 (NT), which revoked part of Yirrkala Aboriginal Reserve to enable the development of a mine by Nabalco. Those impacted by the government’s decision challenged the legislation in the Supreme Court in the now famous “Gove land rights case”, however lost on account of a lack of recognition for communal native title within Australian law.

Historically, the economic needs of the Australian government, particularly in the granting of mining projects and the management of vast mineral resources, has conflicted sharply with the acknowledgement of Indigenous land ownership. Small progress has been made over the past three decades as governments initiate land rights legislation and slowly navigate native title to return land to the Indigenous population.

But the mere acquisition of land is only the first step in a process of comprehensive reunification with the land for Indigenous communities. For years, economic development in Australia and the management of traditional Indigenous land has been viewed as mutually exclusive, if not directly conflicting. On the contrary, mutually beneficial enterprise and economic development of Indigenous land must occur in regions that can sustain it, not for the Indigenous population, but by the Indigenous population.

Statutory authorities, such as the Indigenous Land Council (ILC), are already assisting in achieving this goal. Central to their work is the belief that Indigenous land management can lead to the provision of training and employment outcomes for Indigenous people, resulting in a sustainable cycle of Indigenous-driven economic development.

A 2010 Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce report strengthened this resolve……….

Other bodies, such as the Indigenous Chamber of Commerce, also aim to link the interests of Indigenous business with the economic prosperity of Australia, by facilitating Indigenous self-reliance and business management. Again, the sentiment here is that ownership of traditional Indigenous land and the economic prosperity of Australia ought not to be viewed as mutually exclusive. They can potentially operate hand in hand, with Indigenous knowledge of the land integrating into the Australian corporate landscape through the development of uniquely Indigenous business initiatives.

Case studies of this approach are plentiful. …….

This approach to creating Indigenous business enterprise, in partnership with building the business capacity of the community, is innovative in its ability to marry social and economic use of the land. Protection of culturally important regions can be achieved alongside an acknowledgement of Indigenous land as a unique environmental resource that the communities themselves can manage. To provide long-term benefits to Indigenous communities, a sustainable Indigenous economic foundation must be laid on Indigenous-held land. Here, opportunity, enterprise, and cultural pride may strengthen a connection to the land that many had considered lost.

Christine Todd is a staff writer for Right Now.

July 14, 2014 Posted by | aboriginal issues, AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, environment | Leave a comment

Conflict of interest: Abbott’s Aboriginal man Warren Mundine and the Martu people’s missing $millions


For Mundine, today’s revelations raise questions about his business judgment – and specifically about his company’s role in the Reward Minerals deal. How could anyone believe that the Martu people were being properly represented by the Western Desert corporation during negotiations when one of its top executives had an undisclosed interest in a predetermined outcome?

The sorry tale of Lake Disappointment, the missing mining millions and Warren Mundine, SMH. July 10, 2014  Richard Baker and Nick McKenzie “……once again, he [Darren Farmer] was doing what he had been told not to do. This time he was asking questions. He strode towards Biljabu, who was deputy chairman of the [Western Desert] Corporation. Where, he demanded to know, was the paperwork? And why couldn’t he or the others see it?

The paperwork in question outlined details of the deals Western Desert had struck with mining companies to allow them to dig on the 136,000 square kilometres of resource-rich Pilbara that are the Martu’s traditional lands.

These deals had brought about $50million into the corporation, a non-profit prescribed body corporate that is meant to use the money to benefit all Martu. But little of the money had gone into improving Martu townships.

Farmer kept on with his questions. Why had the Western Desert corporation spent $7million in four years on its handful of employees and paid directors more than $1million? How had well-connected corporate advisers pocketed millions, while much of the Martu mob lived in poverty? Why had the views of senior elders on mining proposals been ignored? Everyone at the meeting that day could tell it was not going to end well.

There are conflicting accounts of what happened next……….

Heated debate – and sometimes violence – is nothing new at indigenous land-council meetings across Australia. These are the forums where the future clashes with the past; where members of some of Australia’s most impoverished communities weigh up the riches that mining can deliver against the cultural cost of digging up their sacred sites.

But what was different about that meeting last July was that the deals at the centre of all the trouble had been brokered by companies owned by the biggest names in Australia’s indigenous community, including the nation’s most influential Aboriginal, Warren Mundine.

The accountant Dalgleish, true to stereotype, was a stickler for detail and decided to dig further into Wolf and Wright’s activities. He found that in mid 2008 they had separately bought more than $1million worth of Perth property. This was close to the time Wright joined WDLAC and the Rio Tinto $21million deal was done.

Although he had no proof that the property purchases involved money from Rio Tinto, Dalgleish was intrigued by the confluence of events and brought them to the attention of WDLAC’s board. On May 7, 2009, Dalgleish wrote a confidential memo to WDLAC’s chairman in which he wondered how Wolf could have approved such an “outrageously excessive fee” as the $2.35million paid to Procter.

A day later, Wright paid out Dalgleish’s contract and asked him to leave. He was able to do this because he had become the corporation’s acting chief executive following Wolf’s departure, a promotion that had bumped his salary to $250,000.

Three days after his departure, Dalgleish reported his concerns to the WA police fraud squad, which in turn contacted Western Desert corporation. According to the police file, detectives were assured by Western Desert in September 2009 that Procter no longer acted for the corporation, and that an “independent third party” would examine the issues and provide recommendations.

A WA police spokeswoman says police never received a copy of any third-party review.

‘‘The matter is currently filed pending further contact from WDLAC as the complainant,’’ she says.

Procter is bewildered as to why anyone would seek police attention over the Rio deal. His company, he says, acted with integrity and its role was supported by the Martu people, who were $20million richer because of IndiEnergy’s involvement.

Dalgleish also contacted the federal regulator, the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations, which is meant to ensure good governance and financial probity at the more than 2500 indigenous bodies across Australia. ORIC also decided not to investigate.

Meanwhile, in early 2009, the Australian Uranium Association – the peak body for uranium miners – announced the members of its indigenous dialogue group. Wolf and Mundine were among those named to promote the potential for uranium mining to enrich indigenous communities.

At the same time, Procter was busy expanding the reach of his company, IndiEnergy. He began appointing ‘‘special advisers’’ from the mining, legal and financial worlds. By far his most important appointment was that of Mundine as a special adviser and advisory board member.

The two had known each other since 2004 when the Howard government appointed them as members of the body that replaced ATSIC.

By the time Abbott announced Mundine as head of his Indigenous Advisory Council in September 2013, he was a close business associate of both Wolf and Procter.

Australia may be a big country, but the indigenous business and politics scene is small and replete with overlapping interests. It was only a matter of time before one of Mundine’s business relationships would clash with his quasi-ministerial role.

Mundine’s potential for a conflict of interest became a reality in February when Procter announced IndiEnergy had taken a stake in an indigenous company whose co-owner, Larrakia Development Corporation, is actively seeking Commonwealth support.

Procter highlighted Mundine in the February announcement of his new venture, praising him and Abbott for promoting indigenous business opportunities. ‘‘Skin in the game is the only way indigenous organisations can attract the right people to assist them in reaching their commercial dreams,’’ Procter said.

But having skin in the game means you risk losing some. And this is the risk that emerged for Mundine when a company he part-owned became involved in the Western Desert corporation’s most contentious mining deal…………

For Mundine, today’s revelations raise questions about his business judgment – and specifically about his company’s role in the Reward Minerals deal. How could anyone believe that the Martu people were being properly represented by the Western Desert corporation during negotiations when one of its top executives had an undisclosed interest in a predetermined outcome?……………

In December 2011, Reward announced it would pay the Western Desert corporation $500,000 upon the signing of an agreement. Another $500,000 would come when mining began and there would also be royalties of 1.25per cent on potash sales. This money was meant to be held in trust for all Martu.

But the biggest prize was Reward’s issuing of 9.5million share options to the Western Desert corporation and Poynton’s Azure Capital, which was in effect the parent company of Indigenous Investment Management. The value of the options at the time was almost $10 million. The Martu will get millions more options as the project progresses.

With money now in the bank, the Western Desert corporation went on a spending spree. Despite its own rules banning the handing out of funds without the approval of all members, the board decided on February 16, 2012, to use the first $500,000 from Reward and $100,000 from the corporation’s operating budget to pay 30 select elders $20,000 each.

Five board members, including Biljabu’s brother, received $20,000 each. Another recipient had just finished his term as a director, and the parents of three board members were also paid. Wolf says ensuring money is properly handled is easier said than done. ‘‘Some Martu live on $9000 a year and so when money hits the account you say ‘that should go to education or something’ but it’s hard when you live in poverty.’’

Still, Farmer says many Martu people are bewildered by their board’s capitulation over Lake Disappointment. ‘‘Why did we fight so hard, only to let it go?’’

So where has the federal regulator been in all this? ORIC has long been aware of governance issues at Western Desert corporation. In 2010, it found the Western Desert corporation had failed to keep proper records, paid money to the board’s chair and deputy in breach of its rules and provided cars to directors – including Biljabu – without member approval. But no disciplinary action was taken against individuals responsible.

Farmer’s fight for answers has taken a toll. ‘‘I’ve been isolated, lost sleep, become ill and [been] made out to be the troublemaker who is stopping people getting their money,’’ he says.

Meanwhile, he says, the Martu communities have not benefited as much as they should have from the mining deals. ‘‘Go out into the communities and there is f— all to show for all the millions.’’………:




July 12, 2014 Posted by | aboriginal issues, AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, secrets and lies, Western Australia | Leave a comment


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 470 other followers