Indigenous land use deal could derail Glencore’s plans for Cape York bauxite mine

Traditional owners of a bauxite lode at Aurukun have moved to block Glencore from developing the deposit in favour of a rival bidder.

Traditional owners of a bauxite lode at Aurukun have moved to block Glencore from developing the deposit in favour of a rival bidder.

Last month the Queensland government listed Glencore as the ‘preferred proponent’ for the Aurukun bauxite project in Cape York.

However traditional owners not happy with this decision have signed a historic Indigenous Land Use Agreement with Aurukun Bauxite Developments (ABD), which had also applied for the lease.

Partnering with ABD and Ngan Aak Kunch (NAK), the deal means the Wik and Wik Way native titleholders would hold a 15 per cent equity share in any ABD-led mining operation.

Wik Way traditional owner Gina Castelain said the deal cemented a co-ownership model that was lacking from the Glencore deal, ABC reported.

"What we really needed was ownership of the mine," she said.

"We want to have a real stake in the mine and to participate fully in the development of RA315 lease.

"We don't want just royalties and sit-down money anymore – we want ownership."

Castelain said the deal represented a great opportunity for the Wik and Wik Way people.

"For the first time in many decades we have a real prospect of independence, of full participation in the mainstream economy and culture.

"Into a depressing landscape of passive welfare dependency, substance dependency, violence and abuse, a distant light now shines and that is our Indigenous land use agreement with Aurukun Bauxite Development."

When the Queensland government handed the mine lease to Glencore, it noted that ABD failed to show it had the “technical and financial capacity’’ to develop the mine.

However ABD chairman Nick Stump dismissed these claims at the time.

“Our investor base is in mining, barging and shipping and are not without practical experience,’’ Stump said.

“I don’t hold the view that it was always going to go to a major (company).’’

On Friday, Stump said it was clear which company the native title holders wanted to partner with for the mine’s development.

He said there were two issues in being granted the lease.

"One is with the State Government – that's their licensing provisions, and the other is with the native title holders," he said.

"The native title holders have today decided they want to put their future with ABD."

Wik traditional owner and NAK director Lyle Kawangka said the people of Aurukun had “waited generations” for the deal.

“Miners have been in and around our area since the 1960s, when large tracts of our land were excised for their benefit, dispossessing our people,” he said.

“We’ve seen no flow-on effect to our communities of the wealth they generated from our lands – our job and household income situation is among the worst in the state.

“This agreement will change all that. The future holds so much more promise for our people now.”

Queensland Indigenous Affairs Minister Glen Elmes said the land use deal changes the circumstances around the project.

“There was an agreement already in place with Glencore and the State [Government]," he said.

"If I were Glencore, I'd probably start talking to the people of Aurukun, but most importantly it's about the benefits that flow to the people of Aurukun."

Glencore cannot go ahead with the mine if it doesn’t secure an agreement with native title holders.

Representatives from the company are set to travel to Aurukun to hold discussions on Wednesday.

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