As most readers of Blak and Black, indeed as most readers of any daily paper in Australia will be aware there has been an ongoing dispute between Fortescue Metals Group Limited (FMG) and two affected Aboriginal groups – the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation (YAC) and the Wirlu-murra Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation (WYAC) – over FMGL’s Solomon Hub mine in the Pilbara.
The arguments center on cultural significance versus corporate greed. Adding confusion to the mix is the fact that the Yindjibarndi themselves are divided into two separate and apparently opposed camps. One, the WYAC, seems to be onside with FMGL, being prepared to sacrifice cultural heritage and integrity for jobs, while the other, the YAC, place their culture and the voices of their ancestors above the scraps offered from the table of greed.
Over the millennia the differences between the WYAC and the YAC would have been settled according to customary law. This was of course before the arrival of the white man on the scene. The white man, as he would like us all to believe, brought the ‘rule of law’ in his wake; the ‘rule of law’ that dispenses ‘blind justice’ without fear of favour, relying only on the competing merits of the case. The problem with this system is that the white man seems to believe that, as justice is blind, he can get away with manipulating the ‘competing merits’ so as to favour his case against the case of his black brother. Where I come from this is called corruption and those who stand idly by and allow this manipulation to occur are complicit in this corruption.
In keeping with the vagaries that have come to pass for the ‘rule of law’, white man has established a system of arbitration and menace that he argues dispenses justice without fear of favour. This he jokingly (I assume he is joking, as the notion can’t be taken seriously) refers to as the legal system.
As part of the joke that white man passes off as the legal system in Australia, he has in enacted legislation designed to provide a series of checks and balances to ensure that Aboriginal rights are protected against corporate greed and that mining companies are not unreasonably denied access to the mineral wealth of this country. If we put to one side for the minute the issue of who actually owns Australia’s mineral wealth, this system sounds both fair and reasonable.
The Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (the Act) sets out the procedures mining companies are required to adhere to when they are seeking permission to mine on Aboriginal land. Section 16 of the Act sets out the application process and section 18 of the Act deals with ministerial consent. As part of the process leading to the submission of s18 notices and s16 applications under the Act, miners and interested Aboriginal groups rely on reports from so called experts. In these cases the experts are usually archaeologists and anthropologists. In anticipation of lodging s18 notices and s16 applications during 2011, FMGL contracted the services of Veritas Archaeology and History Service (Veritas) and Eureka Heritage (Eureka).
In December 2010, Veritas and Eureka produced a report entitled, Report of an Archaeological Assessment of 10 Aboriginal sites located within the proposed Firetail Priority Mine and Infrastructure Area. This report was Veritas and Eureka’s final report and was dated December 2010. The report was submitted to the Department of Indigenous Affairs (DIA) in support of a s18 notice and underwent review by the Registrar.
Section 4.3 of the December 2010 report contained an analysis of the ethnographic issues. In a letter written to the Registrar of Aboriginal Sites Department of Indigenous Affairs dated 5 November, 2011, Sue Singleton, Archaeologist with Eureka made the following comments:
The ethnographic research undertaken by Kath Beech found that sworn evidence given to the Native Title Tribunal clearly demonstrated that there are members of the Yindjibarndi People who belong to the YAC and who are connected to the Study Area. These YAC members claim to hold relevant ethnographic information that would be material in the assessment of cultural heritage significance. In contrast David Raftery’s reports on consultation with the members of Wirlu-murra Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation demonstrated that they held little, if any ethnographic knowledge about the Study Area. Pointing out the deficiencies in consultation was intended to assist the ACMC in determining any requirement for further ethnographic investigation.
This is all very well and good, until we come to the crux of the issue. The aforementioned letter only came into existence because its author, Sue Singleton, was formalising allegations that she deleted key sections from the December 2011 report commissioned by FMGL, because she feared she would not be paid for the work if she did not. Specifically, Ms. Singleton states that:
It soon became very clear that, if we did not comply, FMGL would withhold payment of our previous, outstanding and well overdue invoices on the basis that FMGL could not be expected to pay for a report that they could not use. At the time there were a number of invoices that were already overdue for payment, amounting, in Eureka’s case to $70,000.00
If Ms. Singleton’s allegations are proven this would raise a number of serious issues not only about anti-Aboriginal bias amounting to corruption in Australia’s legal system, but about the whole edifice the white man jokingly calls the ‘rule of law’. As I have discussed previously in You can only have as much justice as you can afford, white man’s justice is nothing more than a façade which attempts to fool the less fortunate into believing that they are receiving a fair go.
The less fortunate in this context include those suffering from emotional, intellectual or financial difficulties. Most Aboriginal Australians coming before white man’s justice are suffering at lease one if not more of these difficulties. The nature of the concerns I discussed in You can only have as much justice as you can afford, namely the manipulation of evidence by those with the resources to do so and get away with it, seem to be based on the allegations made by Ms. Singleton, mirrored in what has happened to the YAC.
Yindjibarndi elder Michael Woodley of Roebourne, has been trying to bring these issues to the attention of the Australian public for some time now. He has continually argued that some of the heritage surveys were flawed or incomplete and that FMGL is destroying places where the Yindjibarndi have held religious ceremonies for thousands of years saying that, ”These places are sacred in our belief, our culture and our identity.” Now it appears that Mr. Woodley has some support for his allegations. I’m waiting to see how white man’s ‘just-us’ responds to allegations that the ‘us’ in ‘just-us’ the white man, has been caught in the act of manipulating evidence!
What value to the Australian community is there in mining, anyway?
Since before the last federal election Australians have been bombarded with propaganda about the competing merits of a mining tax, a tax that was first raised in the 2009 Henry Tax Review as part of a package of measures designed to deal with the pressure the resources boom was putting on non-mining industries.
In the latest farcical attempt by Prime Minister Gillard to actually get a piece of legislation passed by parliament, she agreed to a number of 11th hour amendments proposed by independent Andrew Wilkie. In order to win Wilkie’s support for a mining tax, Gillard agreed to increase the profit threshold at which the tax kicks in, from $50 million to $75 million. This change in the threshold immediately creates a $100 million black hole in the Government’s forecasts.
The original idea for a Mineral Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) came out of the Henry Tax Review. The idea was to replace ad valorem mineral royalties on mine production volumes with a rent tax on profits. The argument was that governments and therefore, the general population, weren’t sharing in the big increase in commodity prices that in turn impacted on the terms of trade and increased the currency. Indeed, there was and is a fundamental disconnect between the terms of trade boom that is killing manufacturing and tourism and the tax revenue governments are getting from this bonanza, because royalties are levied on volume not price.
Ken Henry’s idea was sound in principle, but the luminaries in the Labor party stuffed it up; Swan and Rudd jumping on one portion of the proposal recommended a Resources Super Profits Tax. Taken by surprise the miners revolted and unsurprisingly won. Following this debacle Gillard knifed Rudd in the back, stole his crown and negotiated a lower tax on iron ore and coal with BHP, Rio Tinto and Xstrata so that only the smaller companies with smaller advertising budgets would complain.
As part of her deal with the mining bully boys, Gillard was forced to allow existing mineral royalties to be deducted from the tax, which totally negated the idea of replacing ad valorem royalties with a tax on profits. Then, just to prove that she deserved the crown snatched from Rudd’s political corpse, Gillard proceeded to make the whole exercise completely pointless by tying a MRRT to an increase in the superannuation guarantee levy from 9 per cent to 12 per cent. This had the bonus of increasing manufacturing costs rather that reducing them. Way to go, Julia!
According to Brian Toohey in yesterday’s Financial Review, the cost to the budget of the extra superannuation tax deductions will be $4.2 billion in 2019-20. The total cost of the concessions connected to the MRRT will be $9.4 billion in that year, less than a third of which is paid for by the revenue to be collected from the MRRT.
In the 2012-13 financial year in which the budget is supposed to return to surplus, the net cost of the MRRT package – revenue minus giveaways – is $1.7 billion. So there you have it folks, mining far from being Australia’s saviour, is poised to cost the tax payer $1.7 billion in its first year of operation.
I say we give the land and its resources back to their rightful owners, concentrate on what Australia does best – whatever that is – and the country will be better off to the tune of $1.7 billion.
Ya just gotta love our pollies don’t ya?