Lease decision would risk title claims: Bergmann

The Mount Jowlaenga people in Western Australia’s north have warned of ramifications for Native Title holders across Australia if the State Government gives the go-ahead for a multi-million dollar mineral sands project on MJP traditional land.

In a letter to WA Mines and Petroleum Minister Bill Johnston this week, Indigenous leader Wayne Bergmann said the granting of a mining lease to ASX-listed Sheffield Resources Ltd for the zircon-rich Thunderbird Mineral Sands Project would “set a very concerning precedent”.

A Mount Jowlaenga Native Title claim group, represented by Mr Bergmann’s KRED Enterprises, has been locked in a court battle with Sheffield over the mine, which is planned for the Dampier Peninsular about 60km west of Derby and is said to be one of the biggest mineral sands deposits to be discovered in three decades.

The MJP say the mine should not go ahead until agreements have been reached with them in key areas including compensation for the impact of the mine on Native Title rights, participation in the project through employment and contracting and the management of Aboriginal heritage sites.

But in October last year Sheffield took the matter to the National Native Title Tribunal, saying negotiations had fallen through and successfully asking for the matter to proceed without an agreement in place.

The MJP were this month unsuccessful in an appeal to the Federal Court, despite arguing Sheffield had not acted in good faith. They are now considering an appeal to the Full Court of the Federal Court.

In dismissing the MJP appeal this month, Federal Court judge Justice Michael Barker said the law did not “carry with it the express obligation, or implied obligation, to negotiate in good faith” once a matter was before the NNTT.

Mr Bergmann said the case was “without precedent” in the Kimberley.

“It would set a very concerning precedent that if and when the procedural protection of good faith lapses, and a Native Title party is vulnerable to the type of misconduct Sheffield has demonstrated, the state will turn a blind eye to the conduct,” he wrote to the minister.

He said Sheffield’s conduct included sending personnel to communities to try to convince individuals to do a deal without their appointed advisors present.

Mr Bergmann, a shareholder in NIT, warned that without an agreement in place between the MJP and Sheffield, MJP would be forced to sue for compensation.

Sheffield wants to operate Thunderbird over 40 years.

The Perth-based mineral sands explorer and developer told the ASX this month that the Federal Court decision meant the mining lease for Thunderbird could be granted.

Sheffield managing director Bruce McFadzean said it was a “terrific result” for shareholders and the local community.

“Sheffield has pledged a commitment to local employment, with a particular emphasis on supporting Aboriginal employment as evidenced through our recently implemented work ready program,” he said in a statement.

Wendy Caccetta

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