23 November 2015
Ghillar, Michael Anderson, Convenor of the Sovereign Union, Head of State of the Euahlayi Republic and co-founder of the 1972 Aboriginal Embassy said from Tamworth:
Today is a sad day in Aboriginal affairs. It's a day that I will remember as being one of the saddest days in Aboriginal affairs - the fact that Aboriginal people are attacking each other and condemning each other because of complications created by the Native Title Act is damning. The worst case scenario occurred today in Tamworth where a Native Title negotiation was being conducted with the Whitehaven coal mining company in the area known as Boggabri in NW NSW. It is important to understand that this whole process and confusion arises as a consequence of the Native Title Act and the fact that the Gomeroi have no legislation available that can be invoked to actually prevent mining on Country.
The worst case scenario of violent confrontation between different Aboriginal clans was witnessed today in Tamworth when a clan group and their supporters of the Gomeroi brought their protest into a gathering of the Gomeroi Native Title applicants. The confrontation was about a misrepresented fact sponsored by a person or persons unknown, but was cleverly designed to create an angry and violent confrontation between the clan group and the Gomeroi Native Title applicants over Leard State Forest and surrounding area. During this confrontation one of the applicants was violently assaulted which saw the applicant knocked to the ground by a much younger man and the Elder applicant had his nose broken and he was knocked unconscious for a time. During the melee another Elder applicant wrestled with the young perpetrator to prevent further violence.
This incident is directly related to the way in which the Native Title Act was in fact concluded with no way to veto mining over sensitive areas and thanks to the Magnificent Seven our people have been duped into believing that the Native Title process is the only way to go. The lure in the Native Title process is the 'right to negotiate' with mining companies, which falsely misleads Aboriginal people into believing that the 'right to negotiate' will lead to them gaining great wealth from the royalties from the extractive industries.
Many of our people, however, object to this process because it fails to protect our Mother Earth, but the mineral extractors have priority under the Native Title legislation. The difficulty in being able to deal with any form of negotiation with mining companies is the fact that the governments, State and Federal, have no inclination whatsoever to assist Aboriginal people to ensure our cultural heritage, sacred places and sacred sites are NOT interfered with during the mining process. In fact, our experiences show that the governments' only undertaking is that the people who have an interest in the land culturally have a right to walk the country to clear the land of 'sticks, stones and bones', our physical material culture, which they remove by boxing it for storage in places that are mutually agreed upon. There is no right to say NO to mining on Country. This is in fact a clear violation of international law, which Australia is indeed subjected to, but instead ignores its obligations.
The late HC Nugget Coombs was correct when he expressed disappointment with the Magnificent Seven and the Keating government. He argued that the Native Title Act that was introduced into parliament was an act to grant mining rights over Aboriginal rights and that Aboriginal rights were suppressed by this law, while falsely pretended that Aboriginal people did in fact have rights built into it.
I am sure that today's experience is just the tip of the iceberg of the frustration that is being felt by our Peoples right across this country.
Native Title is no longer about land issues or entitlements or cultural heritage. It is about money. Nothing more or nothing less.
If we are to look at the racist decisions made by the courts in recent years in respect to Native Title we will see where the court determinations stipulate that any land that is acquired under a Native Title decision is not granted by the courts as exclusive possession in favour of the Native Title claimants. This means that Aboriginal Peoples never gain exclusive possession and rights in the same manner as non-Aboriginal people. There are a few court decisions which give exclusive possession to successful Native Title applicants but this type of decision is rare. It is sad that our people are being entrapped by false hope.
There is a second method by which a Native Title decision can be made and is now more popular than the courts' decisions, that is, a State government 'consent determination'. In this case the State agrees to consent to an application to Native Title over territory. Within this agreement certain lands and entitlements may be consented to, where it recognises that the land belongs to the 'Traditional Owners'. On the other hand, however, when a consent determination is made the applicants must be part of a trade off and recognise the rights of the State to own the land. This is being done under extreme duress because the Native Tile Act provides for a corrupt process which essentially permits the Native Title claimants to be bludgeoned into agreements on the basis of take it or leave it, you'll get no more. Our people are led to believe that they can get no more and agree to get something, arguing it is better than nothing, because they are powerless to defend themselves against this type of State sanctioned corruption.
The violent incident that occurred today was caused by sheer anxt and frustration coupled with concern for our cultural heritage and our land. The construct of the Native Title Act sets out a formula for absolute disaster and represents modern day theft of Aboriginal lands and resources.
Gomeroi people today were angry about a negotiated deal that the Gomeroi applicants had negotiated with Whitehaven. Misinformation was the catalyst for the violent confrontation that occurred. The area of land that triggered the right to negotiate was when Whitehaven Coal applied to extend their existing massive coal mine near Boggabri in NW NSW by another 5000 hectares. The joint venture, with Whitehaven Coal the major partner, want to use the 75 acres of land that was Crown Land to store its over burden waste rock. There was no other area in the open cut coal mine expansion area that triggered the Native title 'right to negotiate', because all the surrounding land was viewed as having its Native Title extinguished.
The mining company offered $75 000 per year for the life of the mine – 30 years or more – for the 75 acres, but the Native Title applicants strongly rejected this. Later the company had to agree to $250 000 per year for the life of the mine. Had the applicants not agreed to this within a set period of time, as per the Native Title Act, the mining company could go to arbitration and in the arbitration process the mediator cannot make order for payment of any royalties as the arbitrator is restricted by statute of what he or she can order.
The applicants considered that the negotiated outcome of $250,000 per year for the life of the mine for the 75 acres in the middle of the monstrous opencut coal mine was, under the circumstances, the best possible deal, because the arbitrator rules in the 'national interest' which favours mining. Another success that the applicants say is being ignored by the promoters of the dissension fail to talk about is the fact that the applicants insisted that the Whitehaven Coal employment strategy ensures that Gomeroi citizens and other Aboriginal people are given a fair opportunity to take up jobs within Whitehaven's mining operations. In the last two years Aboriginal employment represents 18% of the coal mining operation's workforce, with eight Aboriginal women employed full time. Their earnings which are taken home to their community and their homes represents $5.3 million per annum. Such an outcome does create an opportunity for families to become an intergenerational workforce into this industry, if they so choose.
Another beneficial outcome from this one and only mining negotiation that the Gomeroi applicants have concluded is a contract for the Gomeroi to have sole responsibility for the revegetation of their lands that have been so cruelly interfered with through the extraction of coal. Culturally it is not what the applicants wanted, however, they can, if they so choose, relocate onto that area the material culture that had been in storage for the duration of the mining program. This is at least a 20-25 year revegetation program which will engage many of the local Gomeroi members in the immediate surrounding area and represents a multi-million dollar job program, which further enables wealth creation for our families. This is not an outcome that we chose, but because the governments of Australia and the mining companies are in unison with each other, our capacity to halt the process is negligible, but the applicants argue that they are not defeated. Now that we better understand the flaws we will endeavour to educate the wider community and hopefully address the wrongdoings with Federal politicians to ensure a more equitable outcome for Aboriginal Peoples in the future.