One of the most influential Aboriginal leaders in the country has questioned how a multinational company has won preferred status to mine a rich bauxite deposit on native title land.
In the dying days of Queensland’s Campbell Newman government, in an overnight decision, then deputy premier Jeff Seeney named Glencore the preferred proponent for the Aurukun bauxite deposit — a decision that shocked many of the local Wik and Wik Way people.
Aurukun, on Cape York Peninsula’s west coast, is considered one of the most disadvantaged communities in the country — a place Indigenous leader Noel Pearson describes as being “riven with misery”.
The Glencore decision dashed the hopes of traditional owners who had dreamed of finally controlling a large stake in developing their own land.
The new Queensland Labor Government’s refusal to overturn that ruling has only compounded the frustration of the Wik people and they have taken the issue to the High Court.
Mr Pearson, the founder of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership, told Lateline it was a farcical decision by the previous government.
“It’s within the power of the Queensland Government to overturn what was done by the previous government,” he said.
“We get a very clear indication however that [State Development Minister Anthony Lynham] might have been subject to lobbying … and this is compounding an injustice to the Wik people.
“We’re asking questions about who has made representations on behalf of Glencore to him.”
Mr Pearson accused Glencore of “using their money and influence in George Street, Brisbane”.
Glencore has denied lobbying anyone over the Aurukun development.
“Glencore does not, and will not, engage anyone to lobby for or promote the project on our behalf, in Aurukun,” the company said in a statement.
Glencore said it was engaging closely with the Aurukun community to maximise opportunities for “local economic participation”.
Losing out to the Glencore bid was the Aurukun Bauxite Development (ABD) start-up, which had signed an Indigenous land-use agreement with the Wik and Wik Way people.
Chaired by former Comalco and Mt Isa Mines CEO Nick Stump, ABD has offered two seats on the board to traditional owners, plus a 15 per cent share in the project.
Mr Pearson said it was a serious proposal.
“We have one of the most eminent, experienced bauxite miners and miners in general leading the Arukun board,” he said.
“He’s playing a philanthropic role with the community, he’s leading a serious team that has the money, the capability and the capacity to do this.”
The Wik people have now placed a writ in the High Court as part of a fight against the Queensland Government’s ruling.
It is not for the first time — in 1996 they won a major native title case in the High Court that found native title and pastoral lease rights could exist along side each other.
Mr Pearson called their latest High Court challenge Wik Part Two.
“For this Labor Government in Queensland it seems to count to nought as a matter of social justice and they believe that a really unseemly process undertaken by the previous LNP government should be allowed to stand,” he said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: On August 21, 2015 Anthony Lynham’s office provided Lateline with a statement saying that the Palaszczuk Government had received independent legal advice about the selection process for the Aurukun bauxite project. You can read the full statement on the Lateline website.