MAC: Mines and Communities

Australia's Kokatha People win a land rights victory

Published by MAC on 2011-01-25
Source: Perth Now (2011-01-18)

A major copper-gold exploration project on Aboriginal territory has been knocked back by South Australian court.

The presiding Judge concluded that: "The native title in the land of the traditional owners in preventing mining are significant and genuine. The Kokatha people's genuine, longstanding and consistently voiced opposition to mining weighed against approval."

This is a significant judgment, not only for the Kokatha in the Lake Torrens region, but also - by implication - for some of their Aboriginal kinsfolk, 75 kilometres away.

Here, BHP Billiton operates its massive Olympic Dam (aka Roxby Downs) mine, which purportedly hosts the world's fourth largest remaining copper deposit, its fifth largest gold lode and its largest cache of uranium.

Under so-called "Native Title" legislation, non-Aboriginal groups have certain rights to negotiate with Indigenous custodians where a conflict exists over a land claim, and the interests of the former may be allowed to supersede those of the latter.

In 2008, a body called the South Australian Native Title Services took over from the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement's Native Title Unit to become the body approved under the Native Title Act 1993 to carry out its functions.

This move enabled a group, claiming to be of Kokatha heritage, to engage and negotiate with BHP Billiton. Outraged at this betrayal, exactly two years ago traditional members of the Kokatha withdrew from all negotiations with the world's biggest mining company as it sought to expand its Olympic Dam operations.

Their spokeswoman issued a statement in January 2009, declaring the allegedly fraudulent Native Title group to "have nothing to do with us".

Isabelle Dingam added: "Aboriginal people do not ‘sell-out' ancestral lands. The Kokatha are sovereigns of this land and will choose how we speak. We will speak in public. No more secret meetings and false announcements. We will now discuss in the open, in front of the people".

Historical note: BHP Billiton gained control over Olympic Dam/Roxby Downs in 2005 after taking over the Western Mining Corporation (WMC) which had constructed the mine in partnership with BP (British Petroleum).

The Kokatha peoples' battle to assert their claims and negotiate access to and protection of their traditional territory, has a thirty-year old history. During the 1980s demonstrations by the Kokatha and their supporters - non-Aboriginal as well as Aboriginal - took place not only around Australia but also in Europe.

In 1988, Kokatha elder, Joan Wingfield, attended the BP Annual General Meeting in London to protest at the company's role in violating her peoples' rights.

For a detailed account of this saga, see: http://www.sea-us.org.au/roxby/wmc-gulliver.html

SA judge's blow to Straits, Argonaut

Perth Now

17 January 2011

A SOUTH Australian court has denied Straits Resources and its joint venture partner Argonaut Resources the rights to explore a region around Lake Torrens. Judge Sydney Tilmouth delivered a scathing judgment on Friday, which said the public interest in exploring a geological anomaly below Lake Torrens was only marginal. Lake Torrens is a salt lake about 60 kilometres north of Port Augusta in South Australia.

Kokatha People's Community camp in 1997 protest against the opening of Olympic Dam/Roxby Downs
Kokatha People's Community camp in 1997 protest
against the opening of Olympic Dam/Roxby Downs
Photo source: Kokotha statement

The traditional owners, the Kokatha people, had opposed the operations due to the significance of the area to them. Argonaut currently holds 100 per cent of the EL 4296 permit at the lake via subsidiary Kelaray Pty, with Straits able to boost its interest to 70 per cent through expenditure.

The area has been described by Argonaut as a target bigger than the mighty Olympic Dam deposit, with a "massive" copper-gold target.

But Judge Tilmouth said the relatively scant material presented to the court showed the potential of the permit had been "overstated".

"The native title in the land of the traditional owners in preventing mining are significant and genuine," he said.

The judge was particularly scathing of the actions of the miners and said the significance of the area to the Kokatha had not been sufficiently appreciated.

`The fundamental shortcomings of the applicants in the field, the failure to secure adequate consents and the posture of avoiding scrutiny and accountability for precipitous decision making, tell heavily against the proposed mining operations going ahead," Judge Tilmouth said.

He said the Kokatha people's genuine, longstanding and consistently voiced opposition to mining weighed against approval.

"The applicants' breach of the exploration licence together with their violations of the rights and interests of the Kokatha, especially Straits' unacceptable, unforgivable and unaccountable resolve to continue the drilling to further its own ends at the expense of other interests, tell heavily against it," he said.

Judge Tilmouth said the miners' case was not helped by a somewhat jaundiced presentation of the evidence and "the affront inherent in the failure to explain why mining continued, compounded by the failure to make those in responsible executive positions accountable".


Kokatha refuse BHP expansion and denounce Native Title "Mining Company Agents"

Kokatha Statement

18 January 2009

The Kokatha have issued the following STATEMENT re: BHP Billiton & South Australian Native Title.

(For the benefit of overseas readers, Australia has two sets of legislation granting certain rights to indigenous traditional landowners. Land rights schemes are established under state legislation, and in the case of the Northern Territory, under Commonwealth or national law. Native title is a set of rights or interests over land or waters established under the national Native Title Act 1993 and granted by the Federal Court . It cannot be granted over freehold title, and pastoralists, miners, local governments, industries and community groups with an interest in an area that is subject to Native Title can apply to the Federal Court to become a party to a native title claim. They can then participate in litigation and negotiations with the holders of the Native Title. Where there is a conflict between a native title group and another party with valid rights and interests, native title legislation gives priority to the rights of the non-native title party.

On July 1, 2008 a new body, the South Australian Native Title Services took over from the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement's Native Title Unit as the body approved by the Native Title Act 1993 to carry out the functions of the Act. One critic has said of the Native Title Act that its "real nature (is as) an act which has been designed from the outset to fast-trek corporate profits and divide and poison communities. This act is an atrocious attack on the indigenous people of Australia and will one day be relegated to the sad and sorry pages of our ongoing colonial and conquistorial style history." In what follows, the mining operation referred to is the Olympic Dam copper, gold and uranium mine at Roxby Downs which BHP Billiton wants to change from its current underground operation to a vastly expanded open cut operation.)

Dear Media Editors:

Kokatha have denied their signatures to BHP Billiton for both an open cut and an expansion.

Kokatha denounced Native Title who are not appointed to speak for Kokatha or their lands.

Native Title are not recognised by the Kokatha.

Native Title have been notified of the above in writing and have continued to conspire with mining companies and collect "people" claiming to be related to Kokatha. A meeting was staged on the 14th December 2008 with participants allegedly willing to accept payment in exchange for some signatures on Kokatha land, for BHP Billiton.

Individuals who attempt to sign on Kokatha lands are not Kokatha. Any Native Title negotiations with any Kokatha person, past or present are undoubtedly coerced as noone understands Native Title.

The legitimacy of any illegal "work-arounds" is disputed by the traditional Kokathas. For many decades Kokatha have sought that the original terms of the "no open cut requirement", be adhered to.

It is well documented that the Kokatha have opposed the open cut and expansion since time immemorial. This was the wishes of our grandfathers and father, who specified, no open cut was to take place. Kokatha will continue to uphold these laws. This defiance and cultural impropriety on our lands is not acceptable to the Kokatha.

Native Title have encouraged substitute, self appointed spokespersons, young elders, a variety of "traditional owners" and "lawmakers" with unrelated geneologies to attempt fraudulent signatures. Signatures on behalf of Kokatha have already been forged. Native Title are a vexation to the Kokatha.

"Kokatha's geneology follows our great, great grand-father's ancestoral line in Aboriginal culture. Native Title has disrespectfully attempted to introduce a deceased Arrente grandmother into Kokatha lineage which will cheat our culture in favour of BHP Billiton. This is not our custom and is not acceptible", said Isabelle Dingaman for the Kokatha.

"The Native Title process, recently slated as needing an overhaul is an unneccesary organisation", said Ms Dingaman. "They have nothing to do with us. Choose your preference blackfellow and go that way. Aboriginal people do not ‘sell-out' ancestoral lands".

"The Kokatha are sovereigns of this land and will choose how we speak. We will speak in public".

"No more secret meetings and false announcements. We will now discuss in the open, in front of the people, Ms Dingman stated".

Kokatha state that Native Title have attempted to alter tradition and have published maps with reduced boundaries in order to obtain substitute signatures for mining companies and gains for their government's nuclear projects.

"Native Title "materialised" 15 years ago as an attempt at government control of aboriginal assets, after the Mabo success", Ms Dingaman stated.

Aboriginal people have never offered their land to mining companies or other projects.
Maralinga, was our lesson and is a prime example of reckless and long term environmental damage sustained to aboriginal lands and people, including your own white communities, Native Title have no authority to attempt alteration of our history, geneology or land areas. Native Title may not touch our business. You have betrayed our trust.

The horror that followed Maralinga has not been forgotten by the Kokatha and we remain united."

Ms Dingaman warns communities using underground water for drinking to insist on RADON testing now, before it is too late.

"We continue to suffer radiation poisoning and do not wish to see other innocent people subjected to this slow genocide and terminal illnesses".

Ms. Dingaman says she doesn't believe there is any more respect for white people than there is for the aborigines. This water is contaminated and everyone has a right to legitimate testing".

"What do these people expect after Maralinga and now three uranium mines operating near them", Ms Dingaman said, Radon testing must be done.

"You ignore this poison being leached into the waterways because it's invisible. You need to demand tests independently or you and your children will become sick as we did."

"Your governments thirst for nuclear and power has stolen this country's water. They are out of control and you must speak up and demand that this madness stops."

Isabelle Dingaman (Executive Member) on behalf of Kokatha

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