China UpdatePublished by MAC on 2006-03-02
2nd March 2006
In the late seventies, Billiton/Pechiney's bauxite lease on Aboriginal territory in Aurukun, northern Queensland, was second only to Rio Tinto/Comalco's at Mapoon and Weipa, as a synonym for the breach of Indigenous rights.
In 1978 three Aboriginal leaders visited Billiton's headquarters in the Netherlands and were told by the company that it would be "very unwise" to proceed with the project, in the absence of prior community consent.
In the intervening years, Pechiney was absorbed by Alcan, and Billiton by BHP; little happened at Aurukun, although Rio Tinto's operations rapidly became the most criticised of any Australian mining project.
Now, after prolonged negotations with some of the world's leading alumninium outfits, the Australian government has invited China's biggest alumina producer to submit a final tender for this huge bauxite deposit. An agreement with the Wik and Wik-Way communities on royalties and environmental protection has still to be reached.