Corporation pursues answers to land removal

The Supreme Court in WA has ordered the operator of a solar salt field in Onslow in WA’s Pilbara to hand over “pre-action discovery” documents to the Buurabalayji Thalanyji Aboriginal Corporation, the governing body for Native Title in the area.

The BTAC asked the court to grant it access to company documents to determine if it had legal rights over Onslow Pty Ltd’s removal of up to 10 million cubic metres of sand and gravel from a mining lease in its Native Title area.

In particular, the BTAC wants to know if Onslow had a $49 million land agreement with energy giant Chevron that meant Onslow was paid for material removed by Chevron for use in the construction of its nearby Wheatstone LNG Project.

Onslow’s annual report for the period ending March 31, 2012 included income of $49.4 million from a “land agreement entered with a third party”. The BTAC did not receive any royalties.

Acting Master Larissa Strk gave Onslow two weeks from January 31 to give the BTAC a list of documents, including any from 2010 to 2012 that refer to a removal contract, arrangement or understanding between the company and Chevron Australia Pty Ltd, construction company Bechtel and engineering giant Thiess.

The company has a further week to make the documents available for inspection.

Events surrounding the action date back to January 2012 when Onslow sought ministerial approval to modify its operations for “flood mitigation” by removing sand and gravel from elevated areas.

The removal of the material began in 2012 and was to continue for nearly five years.

At about the same time Chevron Australia Pty Ltd began construction on its Wheatstone project — works that needed fill material for the foundations.

In a series of dealings, Onslow contracted Chevron to remove the material from its site and Chevron in turn subcontracted that and other work associated with the construction of its LNG Plant to Bechtel.

Bechtel contracted the removal of the material and the preparation of the foundations of the LNG Plant to Thiess.

BTAC lawyers first wrote to Onslow in April 2015 stating that BTAC believed Onslow had entered into a “land agreement” with Chevron for which Onslow was paid, but BTAC did not receive royalties.

Onslow Salt asserts that the material was removed as part of flood mitigation work and that it did not receive payment for the material.

Master Strk also ordered Onslow to hand over any documents that refer to or record any payment made to the company for the removal or use of the fill material or which refer to the land agreement mentioned in its 2012 annual report.

BTAC is being represented in the action by Perth lawyer Martin Bennett. Mr Bennett could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.

Wendy Caccetta

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