More respect needed in negotiations with aboriginal landholders

An indigenous consulting firm has advised mining companies wishing to negotiate with indigenous landholders to listen first, and negotiate later.

Indigenous Services Australia director Tony Shaw has suggested that when seeking permission from Aboriginal people to explore on their land, companies need to be sensitive to the values held by landholders and engage in face-to-face discussions on site, away from city offices.

“In most cases they are not listening, they’re telling,” he said.

“They need to understand that negotiations need to initially be face-to-face and consider both the short and long term benefits to the people or communities they are dealing with, not just their own objectives.

“Companies need to get out of their offices and deal with the people direct,” he said. “Lawyers are okay as a sounding board, but a bit intimidatory.

“Real change doesn’t happen in offices, real changes happen within people.”

“We can only make real change by gaining an understanding of the core values of Aboriginal culture, the importance of skin grouping, the connection to the land and importantly, the impact of the past on the present.”

Shaw indicated that a good example of such negotiations was the mining agreement struck between Sirius Resources and the Ngadju people in August this year, which enabled the development of the Nova Nickel Project, near the Fraser Range in Western Australia.

Shaw said the negotiations were quite fast and achieved good outcomes for the Ngadju people.

Sirius Resources managing director Mark Bennett said he agreed with Tony’s advice on how company’s should approach aboriginal people.

“Don’t approach them in suits and tell them what you want to do,” he said.

“Show some respect and sit down and listen to them before looking at how you can help them and achieve your goals at the same time.”

Sirius Resources was the winner of the Digger Award at the 2013 Diggers and Dealers Mining Forum.

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