A native title claimant has hit back at what he says are people unqualified to make comments or decisions about the proposed Ashton Coal mine in the Hunter Valley.
Last week it was reported that a rift inside the Indigenous community where the mine is being proposed are the result of different groups representing the issues.
Wonnarua Nation chief executive Larry Perry told the ABC last week that a group called the “Plains Clans of the Wonnarua People” was a fringe minority group whose comments on the proposed mine were not valid.
But one of the men at the centre of Perry’s comments has told Australian Mining it is Perry who should not be commenting on the issue, because he is not a true Wonnorua person.
“Perry doesn’t speak on behalf of the people,” he said.
“If he was a dog, fleas wouldn’t get a lift with them.
“We want our land but blow ins have come in”
Scott Franks says he is one of two people properly defined as traditional owners of the land where the proposed coal mine will be established.
In a statement that deals individually with each point in the original ABC article, Franks and the other person he says who is entitled to comment, Robert Lester, say just because their group against the coal mine is smaller than the majority who are in favour of the mine, it does not mean they should not be heard.
“Whether the Plans Clans of the Wonnorua People are a minority or a majority, is irrelevant, under the requirements of the Commonwealth Native Title Act 1993 and the NSW Native Title Act,” they said.
“Most people are not aware, that amendment’s to the National Native Title Tribunal (NNTT) guidelines for assessing native title applications, has been made so applicants must now demonstrate a direct connection, to the area their claim is made over.”
They say Perry needs to understand that it is people’s connection to the land that is the issue.
“The claimant group he was part of, failed the test.”
Franks and Lester say that in September last year the NSW Native Title Services Coropration (NSW NT Corp), a representative body to assist native title claims, led a meeting of people asserting to be the decent of the original Wonnorua people to discuss the issue of Ashton Coal mining on their land.
They say NSW NT Corp tried to get all parties to lodge one claim as a unified group, but despite the fact the Plans Clans of the Wonnarua people were willing to do so, Perry’s group refused to be involved in the one claim.
Two separate claims were therefore lodged over the same area.
“The Plans Clans of the Wonnarua people’s through their authorised persons, Scott Franks and Robert Lester, met all the requirements of the registration test,” the statement read.
“The Wonnarua people through their authorised persons, Victor Perry and Sandra Miller failed to meet what we believe, are the key points of the requirements, of the registration test.”
They say Perry and Miller failed to provide “factual basis for claimed native title” or “traditional physical connection”.
“WNAC has no standing to speak for Wonnarua people, in relation to antive title matters, it is, the people, who collectively hold those rights, not an organisation.
Franks and Lester say the Perry family is in support of the coal mine because they have financial agreements with Ashton coal.
“We would also like to state that Mr Perry needs to come clean about the contract works he has had with Ashton Mine under his business Yunuga Mining Services Pty Ltd and any current agreements and contracts as to how the Wonnarua People benefited through WNAC,” they said.
“A good example to see how he is benefiting from this is to go see where he lives,” Franks told Australian Mining.
“If you go look at how many hectares he’s got his big house on, then you go look at the real traditional owners in their housing commission, anyone can see what’s going on.
“Poor old traditional owners, because of displacement with missions and that, they have been overruled by people who don’t belong there.”
Franks said as rightful owners of the land, they want to communicate effectively with mining companies so everyone can benefit.
“We want to work with mining, but we should have rights,” he said.
The now infamous fallout between Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest’s Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) has experienced similar issues to that of the Wonnarua people.
In the original video posted on Vimeo by the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation, it was claimed that FMG brought people who were not traditionally from the land in question to vote on the proposed mining deal in the Pilbara.
In response, FMG posted its own video claiming the man leading the group against the mining company’s proposed $10 million per year deal was not entitled to comment on behalf of the traditional people.
Franks told Australian Mining that under the amendments to the native title assessment claims process, all Aboriginal people can be consulted about developments, even if they have no connection to the land in question.
He says a change to the policy is required to prevent people securing secret deals with companies for personal benefit and disregarding the land and rightful owners.
Image: Ashton Coal