The Northern Land Council (NLC) has lodged a compensation claim against the NT government on behalf of the Gudanji, Yanyuwa and Yanyuwa-Marra peoples, who are Native Title holders of the McArthur River Pastoral Lease.
The compensation claim filed in the Federal Court seeks unspecified damages relating to the McArthur River zinc mine and the nearby Bing Bong Port near Borroloola, in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
The McArthur River Project, which enabled the establishment of the mine and Bing Bong Port, was initiated in 1992, following an agreement between the NT Government and Mount Isa Mines.
In a statement the NLC CEO Marion Scrymgour said that members of the local Aboriginal community have long fought the development of the McArthur River Project, and, despite success in the courts, have been frustrated by the Northern Territory and Federal Governments.
“Since the zinc, lead and silver deposit was first proposed to be mined, the native title holders have sought to protect their land and culture and have sought to be heard in relation to the social and environmental impacts of the proposed mine. By and large, they have been ignored" said Ms Scrymgour.
The Native Title holders mounted a successful legal challenge in 2007 over approvals to change the mining method from underground to open cut, But the government immediately passed new legislation to validate the approvals.
In 2008, the Native Title holders successfully challenged approvals made by the Federal Environment Minister, but to the "dismay" of Native Title holders, the Minister simply granted a separate environmental approval.
NLC CEO Marion Scrymgour said that Aboriginal people in the Gulf Region still remember the feeling of betrayal after both governments acted against their interests.
“That same feeling has persisted with each new authorisation issued by the Northern Territory Government,” she said.
In the statement, Gudanji man Casey Davey said sacred and significant sites have been damaged by mining operations.
“Our totem is right there where they dug up the dirt for the river diversion and the open cut. He is still there; he didn’t move from there. We need to be paid back for that and for the damage to our sacred trees. It’s sad for us,” Mr O’Riley said.
Last month, the NT Government went against the advice of the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority and approved a major expansion of the McArthur River mine. The government also reduced mining company Glencore's environmental security bond from $519 million to $400 million.