THE National Native Title Tribunal has from farm-in refused to grant permission for Weld Range Metals to operate on four of its mining leases in WA.
The ruling, by NNTT deputy president Chris Sumner on September 21 this year, is only the second time a mining application has been rejected in the Tribunal’s 18-year history. The tenements, which lie on land
belonging to the Wajarri Yamatji people, are scattered with rock art, ancient ceremonial grounds and ochre mines that date back 27,000 years. “The area around the Weld Range is characterised by the existence of caves with rock art, waterholes and old corroboree and ceremonial grounds, all of which remain of particular significance to the Native Title party in accordance with their traditions,” Mr Sumner said.
The NNTT found that the cultural significance of the area far outweighed the value of the minerals found in the ground.
In February this year, the Weld Range was added to Australia’s National Heritage List.
Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation represented the Wajarri Yamatji people, and the Corporation’s chief executive Simon Hawkins said that Weld Range had been an important place for Wajarri families to camp, hunt, and collect traditional bush food and medicine.
“With the protection afforded by the National Heritage List, the Weld Range can be protected from unsustainable development and enjoyed by future generations,” he said. WRM applied for the mining leases
northwest of Cue in WA’s Mid West region in 1997. The leases are in an area previously the subject of earlier mining leases held by WRM and which is surrounded by mining leases currently held by the company. WRM valued the iron, nickel, chrome and platinum in the ground at $84 billion before mining and processing. WRM managing director Peter Fisher was surprised by the decision but declined to comment.
However, in a statement to investors, Mr Fisher said the mining group respected Native Title rights, Aboriginal tradition and Aboriginal sites. “WRM wants to work constructively with the Native Title Party and ensure they benefit from WRM’s mining project,” he said.
“However, the NTP has to date sought a veto over mining projects in the Mid West.
“WRM is awaiting a report from its lawyers, and would work with the Native Title party and government to develop a valuable iron, nickel, chrome, platinum project for the Geraldton region and WA.” Phosphorous miner Holocene is the only other company to be denied permission to operate on Native Title land. Just a week after the NNTT ruling on Weld Range, WA auditor general Colin Murphy raised concerns that mining companies may be getting away with breaching environmental and heritage conditions.
In a report tabled in the WA Parliament on September 28 this year, Mr Murphy said the Department of Indigenous Affairs had not effectively monitored or enforced compliance with conditions on mines under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972.
Mr Murphy said that as a result, heritage sites could have been lost or damaged without the state knowing or acting.
By Kate Christou