MAC: Mines and Communities

All Mining should cease until proper payments made to Indigenous owners

Published by MAC on 2003-05-22

All Mining should cease until proper payments made to Indigenous owners of Australia's resources wealth

Statement by ATSIC Chairman Geoff Clark at United Nations Headquarters, NYC


The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Chairman Geoff Clark today called for an immediate halt to all mining activities in Australia until mining companies negotiated a fair and equitable payment to the Indigenous owners of Australia’s mineral resources.

Mr Clark said more than 80 United Nations resolutions have backed the principle of permanent sovereignty over natural resources as international law and it was well past the time for Australia to make proper payment to the rightful owners of its minerals wealth.

“Domestic and international mining companies have been enjoying a virtually free ride at the expense of the Indigenous owners of Australia’s natural resources,” he said.

“Australia has been riding on the back of its Indigenous peoples for too long. Governments and big business have taken away our mineral resources and have paid us a virtual pittance in return.”

Mr Clark said it was obscene that most Australians enjoyed one of the highest standards of living in the world today while most of the owners of the country’s natural resources suffered third and fourth world living conditions.

“Indigenous people would not need to be bound by the shackles of welfare if they were paid proper compensation for their ownership of the country’s vast natural resources wealth.

“We could pay our own way for housing, schools and hospitals if we were paid our proper due.”

Mr Clark was responding to an address to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues by high-ranking United Nations official, Madame Irene Daes.

Mme Daes was given a standing ovation by hundreds of Forum delegates after she told them “the principle of international law of permanent sovereignty over natural resources has become a central principle of decolonisation and an essential aspect of self-determination”.

“This principle that peoples and nations have permanent ownership of and control over their natural wealth and resources is a principle that should be applied to the world’s indigenous peoples,” she said.

Mme Daes said practically every country had claimed sovereignty over natural resources while denying this right, wholly or in part, to the original Indigenous owners.

“We should now begin to consider this important problem, to examine systematically all its aspects and to discuss it with States, in order to uphold Indigenous peoples’ rights to permanent sovereignty over their natural resources.”

Mr Clark said Mme Daes had also highlighted the fact that the UN had passed more than eighty resolutions in support of permanent sovereignty over natural resources including an historic resolution by the UN General Assembly in 1962.

The General Assembly said: “Violation of the right of peoples and nations to their natural resources is contrary to the spirit and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and hinders the development of international co-operations and the maintenance of peace”.

Mr Clark said the Indigenous peoples of Australia have been “incredibly tolerant” towards the non-Indigenous colonisers who have taken away their lands, their sea, and their rights and left them many of them living in abject poverty.

“The soul of this country will be permanently stained unless a proper, fair and just settlement is made with its Indigenous owners.”

Earlier Mr Clark said in an intervention on human rights at the Forum that Indigenous peoples’ rights have been rare or non-existent for most of the 215 years since non-Indigenous settlement began.

Indigenous people were not even acknowledged in the Constitution and were not even allowed citizenship rights until 1967.

The current government had rejected Indigenous calls for a Treaty and had further encroached on Indigenous rights with recent moves to strip ATSIC’s elected officials of funding powers and to axe the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner’s position at the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

New York

Circulated by Techa Beaumont, Mineral Policy Institute
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