6.1 The mining of uranium in Australia has occurred mostly on Aboriginal land. Of the new mines being proposed, most again are on land that is owned and cared for by indigenous Australians. Not all indigenous owners are opposed to uranium mining, including some who currently have operational mines on their land. However, the Committee was left in no doubt that many traditional owners are opposed to uranium mining, and that the traditional owners of at least one proposed new uranium mine do not want the mine to go ahead. Furthermore, most traditional owners the Committee spoke to expressed concern and anger at heavy-handed and insensitive behaviour towards them, their beliefs, and sacred sites, by Governments and mining companies.



6.2 The Aboriginal peoples of the Northern Territory have perhaps the longest association with uranium mining of any people in Australia. Starting with the Rum Jungle and South Alligator Valley mines opened in the 1950s and 1960s, there has been near continuous operation of uranium mines on their lands. It was made clear to the Committee that their experience with those mines has overwhelmingly been negative. The environmental standards that were applied to these earlier operations were woefully lax, and the attempts at rehabilitation were superficial. Mines such as Rum Jungle caused serious environmental damage. Acid mine drainage from Rum Jungle into the Finnis River destroyed all plant and animal life for a 10 kilometre stretch of the river [52]. When the Finnis River Aboriginal Land Claim was made, the Rum Jungle and Snake Creek mines were nominated as "Issues of Detriment" by the claimants. In its submission to the inquiry, the Northern Land Council said of the claimants:

6.3 In the 1970s Aborigines were granted ownership of the area now know as Kakadu National Park, which was leased back to the Commonwealth. The uranium deposits, however, were excluded from the Park.



6.4 In the late 1970s, the Northern Land Council began to negotiate Mining Agreements with the Commonwealth Government and the owners of the various deposits that had been identified in the area, including the Ranger deposit. Approval for Ranger was given by the Commonwealth in 1977 and mining began in 1979. The Committee was presented with clear evidence that the original Ranger agreement was not supported by the Traditional Owners. The Chairman of the NLC, Galarrwuy Yunupingu began his evidence to the Committee by saying of Ranger:

6.5 The committee was given evidence that local traditional owners gain benefits from the mine, particularly economic benefit from royalty payments. Mr Mick Alderson of the Gagudju Association, set up in 1980 specifically to receive royalties from Ranger, told the Committee that individual members of the Association get about $2,000 per annum from Ranger's operations [55]. The royalties have also allowed the Association to set up businesses such as the Crocodile Hotel in Jabiru. However, the extent of these royalties tends to be exaggerated. John Christophersen of the Murran clan told the Committee of his embarrassment when "reading newspaper articles about these many rich black princes and princesses in this park who had lots of money." [56]

6.6 The Committee was also presented with evidence that the reliance of traditional communities on royalties does have a significant downside. A paper prepared by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies warned:

6.7 Ms Christine Christophersen and Mr John Christophersen cited the 1994/95 proposed release of contaminated water from a retention pond at Ranger as a more specific example of the way royalties could affect the traditional owners' ability to oppose Ranger's operations. Mr Christophersen, who was involved in the dispute, told the Committee:

6.8 The Committee also took evidence about whether royalties from new mining operations would allow traditional owners to achieve a better standard of education and health. Mr John Christophersen, in his evidence to the Committee, pointed out that these were things that the rest of Australia took for granted. He posed the question:

6.9 The NLC also gave evidence that despite being involved in the granting of leases, the NLC does not have significant powers over mining in Kakadu. The NLC stated in its submission:

6.10 Just how little control was revealed during the 1994/95 wet season when ERA advised the NLC that they were thinking about releasing contaminated water from Retention Pond No 2 into the Magela Creek. After meeting with ERA, the OSS and NTDME, the traditional owners refused to give consent. ERA ignored their concerns and applied to the NTDME for approval to release the water, which was granted. An attempt by the NLC to gain an injunction against the release failed. The only thing that stopped the release was that by the time the court action had finished the flow of the Magela Creek had dropped to too low a level. Subsequently, ERA apologised and promised they would not apply for a release of RP2 water again. The NLC noted, however, that this promise has no legal standing. [61]

6.11 More recently, both the NT Government and the Commonwealth decided that the No 3 Orebody at Ranger could be developed on the basis of the original Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), written some 20 years ago. The NLC has labelled the situation "intolerable" and called on both Governments to conduct a further investigation of the impact of mining Orebody No 3. Neither Government has responded as yet. [62]

6.12 Ranger's management often claims that Ranger is the most regulated mine in Australia. Yet the evidence presented by the NLC shows that the traditional owners of the mine site have very little say in its management. Indeed, the proposed water release in 1994/5 illustrated that ERA are prepared to act in direct contravention of the wishes of traditional owners.



6.13The traditional owners of Jabiluka, the Mirrar Gundjehmi, Mirrar Erre, Bunitj and Manilakarr clan leaders, have met to share their concerns over uranium mining. They have many concerns about the social and environmental impacts and do not feel that their people or country have been protected from mining activities. The elders remain opposed to uranium mining at Djabulugku [63]. Their opposition to the proposal to mine Jabiluka is evident. In June 1996 the NLC stated:

6.14 Clear evidence was presented to the Committee that the senior traditional owners of Jabiluka are still opposed to mining at Jabiluka. In its submission, the NLC stated:

6.15 This was supported by evidence to the Committee from Mr John Christophersen, a former Deputy Chairman of the NLC [66]. Fortunately the aboriginal communities affected by Jabiluka have the power under Northern Territory legislation to veto mining on their lands, although the Commonwealth can overrule that veto on national interest grounds.



6.16 The Committee was given evidence that Western Mining Corporation's Olympic Dam site had also been a source of trouble for the surrounding traditional owners. Mr Andrew Starkey, a spokesperson for the Kokatha People's Committee, traditional owners of the actual mine site, told the Committee:

6.17 In further evidence, Mr Starkey complained of broken promises by WMC regarding preservation of sacred sites, and a general lack of sympathy by the company and its employees for those sites:

6.18 Concerns have also been expressed that WMC is not fulfilling its ongoing obligations to consult with aboriginal communities.



6.19 Evidence about the views of the traditional owners of the proposed Kintyre mine site was presented by members of the Western Desert Puntukurnuparna Aboriginal Corporation (WDPAC), including its Executive Director, Mr Teddy Biljabu. WDPAC did not state that they were opposed to the proposed Kintyre mine, but clearly expressed the wish to be given more information and to be allowed to make a decision free from pressure or imposed consultation deadlines. Mr Biljabu told the Committee:

6.20 Despite the lack of overt opposition to the mine, the WDPAC representatives complained of a similar heavy-handedness to that experienced by traditional owners in the Northern Territory and South Australia. Mr Biljabu told the Committee:

6.21 WDPAC has previously gone further in their criticisms of the behaviour of the proponent of the Kintyre mine, Canning Resources of Australia, a wholly owned subsidiary of CRA. In 1993, they stated:

6.22 It is essential that any approval process for the Kintyre mine must involve a comprehensive effort to provide the traditional owners of the area with any and all information they may wish to see in a timeframe that is of their own choosing. The only way to ensure this is to ensure that aboriginal communities throughout Australia have the right to veto uranium mining on their lands.



6.23 The evidence that was presented to the Committee made it clear that the history of uranium mining in Australia and its impact on Aboriginal people is deplorable. Past mining in places like Rum Jungle have left areas so degraded that traditional owners are unable to use them, while mines such as Ranger have been forced on traditional owners against their will. Even at mines such as Olympic Dam, where the local people did not express open opposition to the mine, there was deep concern at the reckless degradation of sacred sites and insensitivity to their culture.

6.24 The position of traditional owners on new mines was unambiguous. The traditional owners of the Kintyre mine are calling for more information before they make decision. The owners of Jabiluka, however, have strongly expressed their opposition to the mine going ahead.

6.25 Twenty years ago a Liberal Commonwealth Government and ERA forced traditional owners in the Northern Territory to accept a mine they did not want. Now, in the same area, the same company is applying to another Liberal Government to again grant approval for a uranium mine against the wishes of the traditional owners. If the traditional owners of Jabiluka do not want mining to go ahead, it should not.

6.26 On the basis of the evidence presented to the Committee, there is clear justification for Aboriginal people having a veto over mining developments on their lands.

6.27 The cursory consideration of Aboriginal issues in the majority report and the lack of any useful recommendations is a wholly inadequate response to the problems and concerns of aboriginal communities. Aboriginal communities made it clear in their submissions to the Committee and during public hearings that they are not interested in the type of empty rhetoric contained in the conclusions offered in the Report. In the view of the aboriginal communities affected by mining the mining companies have consistently failed to live up to existing requirements to consult properly with those communities, and have repeatedly failed to deliver the benefits promised before mining commenced. While the recommendation in the report may be well meant, pious exhortations on their own are unlikely to change anything.



1. The Native Title Act be amended to allow traditional owners a veto over mining on their lands and to remove the power of the government to overrule the wishes of the aboriginal communities on national interest grounds.


2. Before issuing any further export licences the government should ensure that all of the aboriginal groups whose traditional lands may be affected by the expansion of mining operations have agreed, in the absence of any undue pressure, to the mining of that uranium.


3. As a condition of the granting of export licences, the proponents of any new mine should be required to provide funds so that aboriginal communities who may be affected by the new mine can employ expert consultants, of their own choice, to explain the impact of the mine to them.


4. Mining companies should also be required to provide ongoing funding to allow aboriginal communities to employ expert consultants, of their own choice, to provide them with ongoing assessments of the mining operation.


5. Any environmental assessment of Jabiluka or Koongarra should not proceed until after the completion of the Social Impact Study into the impact of uranium mining at Ranger on aboriginal people.


6. At the time of the approval of any new mining operation, or the expansion of any existing mine, Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments should give a clear undertaking that the provision of government services to aboriginal communities will not be reduced because of the payment of royalty equivalent or similar payments to those communities.


7. The decommissioning of the Narbarlek site should be closely monitored to ensure that it is completed to the satisfaction of the traditional owners, with their ongoing consultation and involvement.


[52] CEPA. Submission. p14.

[53] Northern Land Council. Submission 42. p6.

[54] Mr Galarrwuy Yunupingu AM. Committee Hansard. 3 September 1996. p339.

[55] Mr M Alderson. Committee Hansard. 5 September 1996. p582.

[56] Mr J Christophersen. Committee hansard, 3 September 1996. p510.

[57] Cited in Australian Conservation Foundation. Submission 81. p16.

[58] Mr J Christophersen. Committee hansard, 3 September 1996. p507.

[59] Mr J Christophersen. Committee hansard, 3 September 1996. p507.

[60] Northern Land Council. Submission 42. p8.

[61] Northern Land Council. Submission 42. p8.

[62] Northern Land Council. Submission 42. p8.

[63] Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation Statement released 21 October 1996.

[64] Cited in Friends of the Earth. Submission 40. p87.

[65] Northern Land Council. Submission 42. p14.

[66] Mr J Christophersen. Committee hansard, 3 September 1996. p506.

[67] MrA Starkey. Committee hansard, 22 January 1997, p974.

[68] Mr A Starkey. Committee hansard, 22 January 1997, p980.

[69] Mr T Biljabu. Committee hansard, 21 January 1997, p961.

[70] Mr T Biljabu. Committee hansard, 21 January 1997, p961.

[71] Cited in Australian Conservation Foundation. Submission 81. p17.