Sunday, February 22, 2009

Native title: divide and rule tactics to split traditional custodians

Reposted with acknowledgement from the Adelaide Independent Weekly:

Indigenous-mining dialogue group not a silver bullet: ACF
20/02/2009 2:10:00 PM

A group set up to bridge the gap between Aboriginal Australians and uranium mining companies has been criticised as being a tool to rob native title holders of their land.

Former national ALP president and Aboriginal leader Warren Mundine has also come under scrutiny following his decision to become a board member of the Australian Uranium Association - the industry body responsible for establishing the dialogue group that Mr Mundine is now part of.

Jillian Marsh, an Adnyamathanha custodian, is one such critic who knows first hand how desperately Aboriginal people need an independent body they can turn to for impartial advice and information.

But she does not believe the dialogue group, co-convened by ten uranium industry experts and indigenous community leaders, is the answer.

"Isn't it a conflict of interest what (Mr Mundine) is doing?"

"There is just too many people working across too many boards and that is what concerns me," she said.

"And they are not closely enough connected with the communities who are dealing with this stuff on the ground."

The Beverley Uranium Mine site, based 520km north of Adelaide, rests at the northern end of the Flinders Ranges on the traditional lands of Ms Marsh and her ancestors.

"I went all around that country with my parents ... and now to see what is happening under native title and to see our lands just being ripped out in front of us," she said.

"Not having the right to say no to this, not being able to stop this destruction from going on, it makes me feel really sick.

"The way that money is being used to bribe Aboriginal people is really unethical," she said.

"We never talk about how these decisions split families up and divide communities.

"The native title process is failing them."

Holding its first dialogue group meeting this week, AUA executive director Michael Angwin said it was "too early" to speculate what deals might done with native title holders to secure future mining sites.

"We regard this group as a key stakeholder group ... to whom we can go to for advice on the bigger issues affecting our industry," he said.

Australian Conservation Foundation nuclear-free campaigner Dave Sweeney said indigenous communities had "been a major impediment for the uranium industry for a very long time".

"This is an absolutely cynical attempt on the part of the industry to reposition itself as an industry that listens, cares and is concerned," he said.

Mr Sweeney conceded some ACF members held biased viewpoints, but said "by the same coin" he was also concerned the information passed on to Aboriginal communities by the dialogue group might not be entirely balanced.

"No trader calls out 'bad fish'," he said.

"This information will be slanted.

"It is a group that is comprised of and paid for by Australian explorers and producers of uranium.

"It is not some balanced, measured, disinterested, impartial body, it is an industry advocacy group that is trying to facilitate the expansion of the uranium industry in Australia."

Mr Angwin, a former Rio Tinto executive, was open about the fact that discussions with indigenous community leaders would likely benefit the industry, but denied the group was borne out of any frustrations in gaining access to future mine sites or locations suitable for low-level nuclear waste.

"The impetus for this group came from a series of discussions which identified a series of common ideas," he said.

"If people have the right information... they'll come to good decisions and that's what we really want here - for people to make informed decisions based on evidence and not fear.

"If Aboriginal communities decide they don't want to be engaged with uranium, then so be it."
However, Mr Sweeney said Aboriginal people had no right of veto under the current native title system and that development applications were "profoundly weighted in favour of business".

"A lack of consent is not sufficient to stop development proceeding," he said.
"They act as if Aboriginal people have the right to say no and that this is an even playing field, but that is totally misleading."

As the chief executive of Native Title Services Corp, Mr Mundine said it was likely that most future mine developments would be established on indigenous land.

"I'm (part of the dialogue group) for the indigenous people, to put their viewpoints forward," he said.

Mr Sweeney said he questioned whether or not Mr Mundine would represent solely the interests of Aboriginal Australians during discussions, given his "unashamed support for the promotion of the industry" in the past.

"If you sit on the board, then you have nailed your colours to the mast," he said.

"It's no surprise, as he has for a long time pushed this barrow."

Mr Mundine said the ALP during its 2007 national conference scrapped its policy opposing the establishment of new uranium mines.

"And so this is an opportunity for development of the industry here for larger mining activity to happen," he said.

"We need to ensure that indigenous people receive the benefits that they so rightly deserve in the social and economic areas."

Mr Sweeney said he did not believe education, employment and infrastructure should be linked to mining operation approvals.

"They are citizenship entitlements," he told AAP.

"What does that say to those Aboriginal people who do not have access to the potential of a uranium mine?

"Do you only get out of the poverty trap if you've got a uranium mine on your country?"

"For the industry to say `we are the silver bullet, we will solve (Aboriginal dislocation)'; it flies in the face of reality and the lived Aboriginal experience," Mr Sweeney said.

"It is a cynical PR exercise."

The federal government last year granted the approval of a six-fold expansion of the Beverley Uranium Mine.

It is understood native title processes between the Beverley Uranium Mine operator, Heathgate Resources and the Adnyamathanha elders are ongoing.

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