Lateline: Aurukun Bauxite – Noel Pearson

Tony Jones continues his interview with Noel Pearson and addresses the issue of the community at Aurukun in far north Queensland which is involved in a major mining battle with the state Labor Government.

TONY JONES: Noel Pearson, we’re gonna hold you there for a moment while we look at a piece we prepared on another issue about which you’ve got serious concerns.

That other issue involves a community at Aurukun on Cape York Peninsula. Right now the Wik and the Wik Way people there are involved in a major battle with the state Labor Government. It involves the Queensland Government’s decision to confirm the multinational Glencore mining company has the inside running to develop a massive bauxite deposit on the Wik people’s land in Far North Queensland.

Now that decision ignores a plan bin the native title holders to sign sign an Indigenous land use agreement with Aurukun Bauxite Developments which offered local people a share in the company, jobs and boardroom representation. The move has incensed the native title holders, who say the dispute will have to be decided in the High Court.

LLYLE KAWANGKA, WIK AND WIK WAY DIRECTOR: We’re not gonna lay down for the Government because it’s a big company like Glencore and Government who stand over little community like Aurukun and let it – we’re not gonna lay down for it. We’re gonna stand up like the other Wik people who done before us.

TONY JONES: Noel, there’ve been concerns for a long time. The Queensland Government has excluded native title holders from mining ventures. The issue’s recently come to a head over the bauxite mine in Aurukun. What’s the situation now as you understand it?

NOEL PEARSON: Well, the Aurukun people of course are the Wik people, the subject of the most famous mainland native title case from 1996. They have obtained native title over all of their traditional lands in Western Cape York, including this contested area where the Queensland Government gave the multinational company Glencore exclusive rights through some surreptitious overnight deal done in 24 hours by the previous state government. And the great unfortunate thing that’s now happened, it’s very clear that the new Labor minister has simply said, “Well, this deal was very shoddy, but I’m not willing to overturn it and I’m willing to live with this decision that was made by the previous Campbell Newman Government.”

TONY JONES: Is there any evidence of machinations behind the scenes?

NOEL PEARSON: Who has Minister Lyneham been lobbied by in relation to this decision? There’s real questions about what influence has he been subjected to such that they’re unprepared to change what was clearly a farcical decision by the previous government. And Tony, essentially, the traditional owners have now gone to court. They’ve placed a writ in the High Court and the High Court has agreed to hear it. This is essentially Wik Part II.

TONY JONES: Well, I mean, it’s different in the sense that what they want is the right to participate in, even control the development of the mine themselves and that a proposal has been put up along those lines. Is it a serious proposal? Do the community – is there the expertise in the community? Is there the funding available to get a mine up? Is – there are all of these critical questions.

NOEL PEARSON: Yeah. This is a serious proposal. Nick Stump is the chairman of the bid proposal. He’s a former CEO of Mount Isa Mines. He’s a former CEO of Comalco in Cape York and indeed he was the chairman of the Australian Minerals Council in an earlier life. So we have one of the most eminent, experienced bauxite miners and miners in general leading the Aurukun board. He’s playing a philanthropic role with the community. He’s – and he is leading a serious team that has the money, the capability and the capacity to do this. But unfortunately, the Wik people have gotta kinda go back and repeat a High Court action …

TONY JONES: Well this is in fact the third attempt at it, isn’t it?

NOEL PEARSON: Absolutely and this – you know, the fact that we’ve had native title, Mabo settled in relation to all of that land on Western Cape York Peninsula for this Labor Government in Queensland 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.

TONY JONES: Is it possible – is it possible – and I s’pose you’d need the High Court to rule on this, but is it possible to unwind Glencore’s – in effect the agreement that Glencore has with the Queensland Government to go ahead with this mine to develop themselves to the exclusion of the Wik people’s control over the development?

NOEL PEARSON: Oh, it’s completely – it’s completely possible. It’s within the power of the Queensland Government to overturn what was done by the previous government. We get a very clear indication, however, that the minister might have been subject to lobbying and this is compounding an injustice to the Wik people because …

TONY JONES: Are you suggesting there should be an investigation into that possibility?

NOEL PEARSON: Oh, you know, we’re asking questions about who has made representations on behalf of Glencore to him. We know, for instance, that Glencore has been paying local Indigenous people to act for them on the ground in the community up there, to divide traditional owners. We know for a fact that they have been paying individual Wik people to act on their behalf. And indeed, one of the people that Glencore was paying was also being paid by the minister’s department. At the very same time, over these recent six to nine months, Glencore and the state department have been paying the same local people to play a divide-and-rule game between traditional owners on the ground.

TONY JONES: A final question on this: how much of a game changer would it be to have a mine of this size and scale, a development of this nature actually run effectively by the Wik elders and the management committee under them?

NOEL PEARSON: Oh, the Aurukun community along with another community in Queensland are the most disadvantaged communities in Australia. There are a whole lot of social problems, health problems, problems with children. These are the most – these communities are riven with misery. And so to have – to own, to have part ownership of an enterprise that can generate jobs for adults, training opportunities for young people, and, you know, pathways for young children that really do well in the school – the school at Aurukun is really now starting to show bloom, blooming flowers, but I want those young Wik children to aspire to running and operating their own mine. It would be completely transformational.

TONY JONES: Noel Pearson, we’ll have to leave you there. We thank you very much for joining us.

NOEL PEARSON: Thank you very much, Tony.



Scroll to Top