Australia: Aboriginal community sacrifices set to gain true state recognition?Published by MAC on 2019-08-05
Source: ABC, The Guardian (2019-08-04)
Rio Tinto subject of Yunupingu law suit
Australian Indigenous communities - manifestly robbed of their land by mining companies and others - may have secured an important advance in securing not only monetary compensation, but also state recognition of the "intangible harm caused by [their] disconnection with country".
Australia to be sued over mining project's 'unmerciful' destruction of
Galarrwuy Yunupingu taking legal action for loss of native title as well
as destruction of dreaming sites
Helen Davidson at Garma festival
4 August 2019
The federal government is facing a lawsuit over damage done to
Indigenous land by the decades-old mining project that sparked the
Yirrkala Bark Petitions.
Gumatj leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu revealed on Saturday that he and his
people were taking legal action against the commonwealth, seeking
compensation for the loss of native title over the minerals exploited by
mine operator Nabalco and its successor, Rio Tinto, as well as the
destruction of key dreaming sites.
The suit is expected to use the historic precedent set by the Timber
Creek judgment by the high court in March, which ruled on monetary
compensation for loss of native title.
“They’ve come to Gove peninsula without asking properly of the
landowners of the place,” Yunupingu told the crowd at Garma festival, in
north-east Arnhem Land.
“They have all come, getting the OK from the PM and the government of
the country, to come all the way and start digging and insulting the
He accused the two companies of having “ripped some land unmercifully”.
“They have damaged our country without seeking advice to us and they
have damaged a lot of dreamings – dreamings that were important to
He said the companies failed to ask the local people where they could
and couldn’t go on the Gove peninsula in north-east Arnhem Land.
Traditional owners have received royalties from the mine, a fraction of
the total revenue drawn from the site. They have recently opened their
own mine and training centre, Gulkula Mining, of which Yunupingu is chair.
Prospecting for what would become the bauxite mine and refinery began in
the 1950s, and Yolngu traditional owners were strongly opposed.
Leases were granted and excised without consultation of the people of
Yirrkala, and the now historic Yirrkala bark petitions were delivered to
the federal government in 1963. Yunupingu, whose father was then Gumatj
clan leader, helped draft the petitions.
However, the mine went ahead, with the Gove agreement signed five years
later between the commonwealth and Nabalco.
Traditional owners took the mine to court in 1971, the first ever native
title litigation, but lost, with the judge citing the doctrine of terra
nullius in his judgement.
The loss sparked the establishment of the Woodward royal commission, and
NT land rights act.
The case flagged by Yunupingu on Saturday will rest on the precedent set
by this year’s Timber Creek decision from the high court, which awarded
more than $2.5m in compensation to native title holders over dozens of
acts by the NT government between 1980 and 1996 which were later found
to have “impaired or extinguished” native title rights and interests.
More than half the amount was to compensate for “cultural loss”.
The March judgment reduced the amount ordered by the federal court in
2016 but otherwise held up the new precedent of quantifying the monetary
value of native title and associated compensation for the removal of
Native title experts responded to the ruling with predictions it would
pave the way for potentially billions of dollars in liability payments
by Australian governments.
The attorney general, Christian Porter, said on Sunday: “There is a well
established process for native title claims and those processes would be
followed for any such claim lodged regarding bauxite mining.
“I note that at this point what has been said is an intention to lodge a
claim and that a claim has not yet been lodged.”
Garma: Gove Peninsula traditional owners to launch compensation case over bauxite mining
By the Specialist Reporting Team's Laura Gartry and Steph Zillman at Garma
4 August 2019
One of Australia's most respected Aboriginal leaders, Galarrwuy Yunupingu, has announced his intention to lodge a native title compensation claim against the Commonwealth over the minerals that were mined on the Gove Peninsula.
* The claim comes after a legal precedent was set in the $2.5m Timber Creek settlement
* Dr Yunupingu said proper permission was never sought from the traditional owners in the 1960s
* He said important dreaming sites had been destroyed by Nabalco and Rio Tinto
In the early 1960s, the Commonwealth government granted a mining lease to Swiss company Nabalco — a lease that was then taken over by Rio Tinto in 2007.
Speaking at the Garma Festival in north-east Arnhem Land, Dr Yunupingu blasted mining companies for "destroying" dreaming sites.
"They have damaged our country, without seeking advice from us, and they have damaged a whole lot of dreamings, and dreamings that were important to Aboriginal people in land claims and land rights," he said.
Why is the Garma Festival important?
A showcase of more than 50,000 years of Yolngu culture, the Garma Festival also aims to address contentious political and social issues affecting Indigenous Australians.
The case could be launched within a few months after the Gumatj group watched and monitored the developments in the $2.5 million Timber Creek native title case that set a legal precedent.
The Timber Creek claim was the first time the High Court had examined the Native Title Act's compensation provisions, including how to put a price on intangible harm caused by disconnection with country.
The compensation was divided into three components: economic loss, interest and non-economic loss related to the "spiritual" harm caused by disconnection.
Dr Yunupingu will be the applicant in the case, but the claim would be on behalf of the Gumatj clan, and other interested clan groups, for the areas covering the Garma festival site and Rio Tinto bauxite operations.
The Nabalco bauxite operations, later renamed Alcan Gove, was purchased by Rio Tinto in 2007 and an agreement with the traditional owners was signed in 2011.
Dr Yunupingu said proper permission for mining was never sought from the traditional owners when the lease was awarded in the 1960s.
He said the company failed to ask where to go and where not to go.
"I will be fighting for the land rights case in which the mining company has come to Gove Peninsula, without asking properly of the landowners of the place," he said.
"They have all come, getting okay from the prime ministers, and the government … and started digging and insulting the country.
"That these mining companies, Nabalco, number one and number two is Rio Tinto.
"Those two companies have ripped some land unmercifully."
Dr Yunupingu said dreamings on his traditional country were damaged and destroyed by Nabalco and this was continued by Rio Tinto.
"The old site where Nabalco has established … then they changed, and Rio Tinto has come about and took over and carried on doing the same thing as they did," he said.
Using bark paintings, Dr Yunupingu explained the impact on two particular dreaming sites where the mining operations are still based.
As a young man, Dr Yunupingu helped his father draw up the first bark petitions presented to the Australian Parliament in 1963, in protest at the Government's excision of Yolngu land for bauxite mining.
Dr Yunupingu was later the court interpreter for the Gove Land Rights Case and has spent decades fighting for land rights and social justice.
Yirrkala bark petition
Despite being in attendance and a sponsor at Garma Festival, Rio Tinto declined to be interviewed about the case.
In a statement, the company said it continues to work closely with the traditional owners at the Gove operations.
"Recently we partnered with Gumatj to purchase bauxite from the first Indigenous owned and operated mine."
Case follows precedent set over building of roads, infrastructure
The Timber Creek decision set a precedent for similar claims across the country.
The claim by Ngaliwurru and Nungali native title holders was about rights that were extinguished through the building of roads and infrastructure by the Northern Territory Government in the 1980s and 1990s.
Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia were "interveners" or interested parties in the case, supporting the NT and Federal Governments' position.
Northern Land Council lawyer Tamara Cole said earlier this year the NT Government would be responsible for paying the compensation in Timber Creek case.
"Native title holders around Australia have been waiting for the High Court to deliver its decision in Timber Creek, so they can get on with their negotiations with state and territory governments to arrive at fair amounts of compensation," Ms Cole said