Australian Mineral Council rejects Aboriginals’ claim

The Minerals Council of Australia has moved to reassure indigenous Australians that the minerals industry remains committed to mutually beneficial agreements with traditional owners for land access and use, which respect the rights and interests of indigenous Australians to Australia’s lands and waters.

MCA Chief Executive Mitchell Hooke said there was “absolutely no foundation” on which to base concerns expressed by some indigenous leaders that the Federal Government’s Northern Territory reforms were a “Trojan horse for increased land access for mining”.

“Let me be clear on three counts, he said. “First, from a legislative perspective, none of the Bills before the Federal Parliament propose amendments to the mining provisions of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (Northern Territory) 1976. And, the prescribed townships that the Government intends to acquire under the five-year lease arrangements do not cover prospective mining areas.

“Second, as evidence of the industry’s shift beyond a litigious approach to land access, there are now in excess of 350 agreements with indigenous communities across Australia, covering a range of land access and use conditions, not one of which has contested the rights and interests of indigenous Australians, whether under the Native Title Act or the Aboriginal Land Rights Act.

“Third, the minerals industry does not usually undertake developments in townships, however where that may occur, for example, in the construction of related infrastructure and/or training facilities, the MCA has sought to ensure that legislative processes are in place to provide for the Government to recognise the outcomes of negotiations between industry and traditional owners over these lands.”

In discussions with the Government, the MCA successfully sought to ensure that the changes to the permit system would not allow unimpeded access throughout the Northern Territory, thereby placing homelands and cultural heritage sites at risk from damage or the introduction of prohibited substances.

The proposed Bills now contain qualifications on the areas in which permits are revoked, including roads providing direct access between the acquired townships, airports, and access for court proceedings and other Government related activities.

“The MCA continues to work with the Government on a suite of strategies, including the joint Memorandum of Understanding, to facilitate the transition of indigenous Australians from education and training to employment and enterprise development,” Hooke said.

“This is designed to better the socio-economic circumstances of indigenous communities and to enhance their participation in the minerals industry and the wider economy – critical to an enduring platform for social change.”