• “In the past there have been a handful of people making decisions on behalf of all Martu and ignoring all people and haven’t been listening to them properly,” said Martu man Curtis Taylor. (File)Source: File
EXCLUSIVE: Negotiations between Australia’s biggest gold miner Newcrest and the Martu people who hold native title over its Tefler mine in WA have been called off due to an investigation into corruption allegations, NITV News can reveal.
By
Robert Burton-Bradley

Source:
NITV News
9 Jul 2015 - 6:16 PM  UPDATED 9 Jul 2015 - 6:37 PM

The investigation is examining how a large portion of almost $50 million in payments from other mining companies were allegedly spent on entitlements for directors and staff of the Western Desert Lands Aboriginal Corporation which administers native title for the Martu people.

A letter obtained by NITV News from Newcrest reveals the company has called off negotiations for an Indigenous Land Use Agreement with WDLAC until an investigation into its finances by the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations is finalised. ORIC has already told WDLAC it is to be placed into administration unless it can provide sufficient reasons as to why this should not take place. WDLAC is contesting the allegations being made against it in relation to mining payments.

“You are no doubt aware that the WDLAC special general meeting with Martu Community members, scheduled to be held on 5-6 May has been deferred so WDLAC can respond to the concerns raised by ORIC,” the letter to a group of Martu elders said.

The letter from Newcrest was in response to a written request by elders from the Parnngurr community for Newcrest not to meet with, or sign any agreement with WDLAC, which they accused of ignoring the objections of their community about mining on their lands and claimed they had not seen any of the millions of dollars obtained on their behalf for the projects.

“We do not trust that money given to WDLAC or the Desert Trust will make it to our communities. In the past this has not happened and our communities are suffering,” the elder’s letter stated.

“There needs to be some accountability for that (previous decisions), we didn’t agree to the mine going ahead at Kintyre. We certainly don’t want a uranium mine 100 kilometers away from our community.”

“Of the millions of dollars that WDLAC has received in mining royalties for the Martu people this community has received none when they should have been helping to develop here.”

WDLAC has disputed the Parnngurr elders claims.

Martu Community Elder Jimmy Williams Vice Chairman of the Parnngurr community, and one of the signatories on the letter to Newcrest, said he was pleased the miner was awaiting the outcome of the ORIC investigation, and alleged that previous agreements such as the Kintyre uranium mine, had been signed by WDLAC against his community’s wishes.

“There needs to be some accountability for that (previous decisions), we didn’t agree to the mine going ahead at Kintyre. We certainly don’t want a uranium mine 100 kilometers away from our community,” he told NITV News.

Tony Wright from the WDLAC told NITV News that there had been extensive consultation with the Martu community on all agreements made with mining companies by the council and rejected claims by elders from the Parnngurr community that opposition had been ignored.

“I’m sure as you know we have responded and I do not intend to make comments on an ongoing discussion we are having with ORIC and again we will let everyone know as soon as we have something to say.”

In response to further questions he directed NITV News to a statement on the Corporation’s website.

“There were numerous negotiations, meetings and consultations with Martu, including meetings of the Martu-nominated Consultative Committee,” the statement read.

“There was a three-month period in which objections were able to be lodged by any member of the public, including Martu.”

A Newcrest spokesman confirmed that negotiations had been suspended until the investigation was finalised.

"We had effectively settled the key terms of the ILUA prior to the ORIC investigation and have recently agreed with WDLAC to suspend further ILUA negotiations until the outcome of the ORIC investigation is known," he said in a statement to NITV News.  

"As far as we are aware, ORIC’s investigation does not relate to money provided by Newcrest but we will closely monitor the outcome."

ORIC could not say what would happen to multi-million dollar mining deals made by WDLAC if it finds evidence of corruption and an administrator was appointed.

“We have native title over our country and we have been forced to negotiate with mining companies like Cameco over the Kintyre uranium project and reward Mineral over the Lake Disappointment mine, both mining projects we don’t want on our country.”

“The aim is to return the corporation to members’ control as soon as possible after it is restored to good health,” a spokeswoman for ORIC told NITV News.

“If in the course of their work the special administrator was to find evidence of wrongdoing they would be expected to report it to the appropriate authority.”

Community members demands answers

A series of investigative reports by Fairfax media last year revealed claims of widespread financial mismanagement, violence and intimidation and irregular book keeping at WDLAC, prompting the Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion to order the current ORIC investigation last year.

The WDLAC has negotiated a number of land use agreements with mining companies including one for the Kintyre uranium mine operated by the world’s largest uranium miner Cameco, about 100 kilometres from the Parnngurr community which says it was not consulted about the project and has received no financial benefits from the project.

In a statement Brian Reilly, Managing Director, Cameco Australia said the company had worked with the community on its access to uranium on the Martu lands.

“Cameco is proud to have developed a strong relationship with the Martu and to have agreed an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) that provides for a range of business, employment, cultural and community development initiatives which ensure Martu have a strong stake in the future of the Kintyre project development,” the statement said.

“The Martu haven’t been speaking with one voice because of that, but now we’re coming out, coming out and we speaking with one voice now; about Kintyre, and Lake Disappointment and saying ‘no’, ‘no deal’.”

However a group of Martu who travelled to Sydney to appear on the ABC’s Q and A program last month said the community did not want the Kintyre mine, and were against another WDLAC deal involved a $21 million payment from Rio Tinto to avoid objections during its sale of a uranium deposit in 2008 to Reward Minerals .

“In the past there have been a handful of people making decisions on behalf of all Martu and ignoring all people and haven’t been listening to them properly,” said Martu man Curtis Taylor.

“We have native title over our country and we have been forced to negotiate with mining companies like Cameco over the Kintyre uranium project and reward Mineral over the Lake Disappointment mine, both mining projects we don’t want on our country.”

Mr Taylor said in the past when deals were being negotiated there had been intimidation of opponents but that now people felt the need to speak out to stop the projects going ahead.

“The Martu haven’t been speaking with one voice because of that, but now we’re coming out, coming out and we speaking with one voice now; about Kintyre, and Lake Disappointment and saying ‘no’, ‘no deal’.”