Northern Land Council Sues NT Government

Northern Territory traditional owners representing Gudanji, Yanyuwa and Yanyuwa-Marra peoples filed suit against the Northern Territory government in Federal Court last week. The suit, for an unspecified amount, alleges harm to sacred sites and infringement against native title rights caused by the McArthur River mine approved by the NT government.

The McArthur River mine excavates lead, silver and zinc and is operated by Glencore, a Swiss-registered conglomerate. Glencore topped Michael West’s 2018 list of tax dodgers, registering a tick under $29 billion in Australian income for the year with $0 tax paid.

The McArthur River mine, initiated in 1992, has a long and chequered history. Toxic chemicals have been burned off at the site, sending plumes of noxious smoke over the region, and which workers claim caused them serious injury. The mine destroyed a sacred site in 2009, according to the ABC, and the expansion of excavation threatens nearby sacred sites centered on springs and waterholes in the tropical savannah ecosystem. The mine also poisoned fish in nearby rivers and creeks, and the company and NT Health Department neglected to tell local people.

In 2007, a change in the mine’s environmental approval to allow open-cut mining was rejected, but the NT government soon changed the relevant laws to allow Glencore to proceed.

More recently, a November approval from the NT government allowed Glencore to double the size of the mining pit and waste dump. The departmental approval controversially went ahead against the wishes of the NT’s Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA), which rejected Glencore’s application and directed further discussions with traditional owners of the land affected.

When the ABC asked NT Resources Minister Nicole Manison how the development could go ahead without AAPA approval, she said, “some of this development is conditional on AAPA clearance,” but “this is about supporting jobs.”

It looks like the AAPA has authority when it comes to closing tourist walking trails on indigenous sacred sites, but not when it comes to challenging multinationals with hundreds of billions of dollars in annual revenue.

Feature image is a photo of the McArthur River, NT.