EXCLUSIVE: Govt warned of ‘blood on the streets’ over Wik bauxite plan
Curious last-minute ministerial decisions, covert strategies to divide Aboriginal communities and a decade of broken government promises effectively robbed the Wik people of any chance to create long-term prosperity from the Aurukun Bauxite project, a Senate inquiry has been told.
In its submission to an inquiry examining the development of bauxite resources in Cape York, Aurukun Bauxite Development Pty Ltd (ABD) and its parent company Australian Indigenous Resources Pty Ltd (AIR), build a compelling case as to why questions need to be asked about the Swiss-based mining giant Glencore’s successful bid to mine and market the massive bauxite deposit on the western side of the Cape, known as RA315.
ABD, in a joint venture with the Native Title body Ngan Aak-Kunch Aboriginal Corporation (or NAK, representing the Wik people), had a registered ILUA with the Traditional Owners and was backed by the country’s largest mining contractor Thiess. Their bid was unsuccessful.
The submission, one of 16 to the Senate Standing Committee, questions among many other things the signing of a Development Agreement between Glencore and the Queensland Government on January 5, 2015, the day before Campbell Newman announced a snap poll for January 31.
On January 14, during caretaker mode, a Mineral Development License was signed and accepted by the state, which ABD claims was a blatant break with convention.
It also alleges that both Glencore and the State Development Department hired a Wik Traditional Owner to help sever ties between NAK and the influential Cape York Land Council at the height of the negotiations, a claim emphatically denied by Glencore.
The submission also claims successive Queensland governments going back to Peter Beatty’s Labor administration in 2006 had done everything in their power to keep the Wik hamstrung during any bidding process and strip them of any chance to create economic opportunity in their communities, often described as the most disadvantaged in Australia.
ABD and NAK believe that in 2006, legislative changes to the Mineral Resources Act 1989 (Qld) effectively removed the Wik’s Native Title rights and every subsequent action of successive governments had “followed this pattern of denial”.
NAK is now challenging those amendments in the High Court. It argues that because the amendments were flawed, every decision relating to Aurukun since those amendments came into law are also flawed.
Under the ABD/NAK joint venture, the Wik would have secured 15 per cent of the mine’s profit, had two Native Title representatives on the ABD board, received 20 cents a tonne in royalties, (as would the Aurukun Shire Council), have a 70 percent local indigenous workforce target after seven years, secure funds for independent tax and legal advice, early training programs and get $1m over five years to identify and provide business models for local enterprises.
In its submission, ABD claim the Glencore bid was noncompliant as it had no minimum benefits package for NAK and the Shire, which was the number one criteria of the bid process spelled out by State Development.
It also detailed a range of barriers that it claims were built to ensure there was no Indigenous input into the project.
ABD claims that then deputy Queensland premier and minister for State Development Jeff Seeney told a September 2012 meeting of Wik leaders in Aurukun that he “was not going to put the leases out to tender” to allow NAK time to prepare for their bid, and would tell Campbell Newman and his Cabinet that.
But within two weeks, Mr Seeney announced that the government planned “to go to market and seek fresh expressions of interest”. NAK, according to the submission, were not informed of the decision.
Over the next six months, the bidding process was closed, then reopened. The Cape York joint venture was encouraged to put in another “enhanced” bid. Mining contractor Thiess came into the JV and Nick Stump, a former senior Comalco mining executive, was appointed chairman of ABD.
But the next meeting with Mr Seeney went badly, according to the submission, with the deputy premier offering ABD an exploration lease on a smaller parcel of land. The chairman of the Cape York Land Council, Richie ah Mat and his party warned Mr Seeney that if the lease was split, it would divide the community into “have” and “have nots”, that communities needed to be united, not divided over the issue, and that it could lead to “blood on the streets”.
On July 30, 2014, the joint venture received an email from the Director of State Development, David Edwards, confirming that his department was carefully considering the process to select the preferred proponent to ensure fairness and equity to all parties. “I expect we will be in a position to advise you of the process to be used in the coming weeks,” he wrote.
But on August 28, without warning according to ABD’s submission, Mr Seeney announced that Glencore had won the race to become the preferred proponent to mine RA315. ABD received an email the same day from the State confirming as much.
ABD claims it had been discriminated against because the whole process was “framed to deny the Native Title holders their rights under law” and that it was not able to present its final offer to the government.
“At the date of this submission, no minimum benefits package has been presented to NAK by Glencore in line with the Government’s bid requirements.”
Glencore has defended its role in the bidding process, saying it took part in an open, competitive and merit-based tender process.
“We successfully won the right to develop the Aurukun bauxite resource based on the merit of our proposal,” it said.
“Glencore recognises that the direct involvement of traditional owners and community members is vital to the future success of the project. We know that this project will not succeed without their direct involvement and their support for our work.”
Anthony Lynham, Queensland’s current minister for State Development, Natural Resources and Mines, has backed the previous government’s process and refuses to re-examine the bid.
“There have been some allegations that the selection process was unfair and that the decision should be reviewed,” he said in a statement.
“The Palaszczuk Government has independent legal advice . . . . The bid will not be reopened. Glencore will proceed.”
But ABD chairman Nick Stump told NIT the fight was far from over.
“We are confident that we are standing on solid ground in relation to these issues,” he said. “We are not going to lie down over this.”
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