A gold mining company faces renewed parliamentary scrutiny for breaching environment regulations and allegations of racist behaviour at its flagship project in Western Australia.
A series of offensive posters were placed on fences and buildings in June at Pinjin Station, an Aboriginal-owned property 145 kilometres northeast of Kalgoorlie.
Messages included: “Black n***** holding up mine” and “We destroy black n*****”.
Hawthorn Resources, which is headquartered in Melbourne, has denied responsibility for the signs.
In August, a parliamentary committee was established to look into the mining operations and 'all allegations, including those of intimidation, abuse and racial discrimination' raised in parliament in June and 'other allegations dating back to 2012'.
The WA Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) wrote to the Hawthorn Resources in April and May about potential condition breaches and warned them to take “all reasonable measures to prevent or minimise the generation of dust”.
A $40,000 fine was subsequently sent in August by the Warden’s Court in Perth – which oversees mining disputes.
One Nation upper house MP Robin Scott, who previously raised the threatening behaviour in parliament, put questions to WA regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan about the penalties imposed.
Ms MacTiernan, representing the Minister for Mines and Petroleum, responded on Wednesday.
She said “the breach justified a penalty” and that she is able to impose fines of up to $150,000 for such breaches.
“Based on the information provided to me by DMIRS, which included factors that led to the breach, I chose to impose a penalty of $40,000,” she said.
Ms MacTiernan also revealed that the miner could be fined for late payment of an undisclosed amount of gold royalties.
“DMIRS is still in the process of determining whether a penalty will be imposed for late royalty payment in accordance with established procedures,” she said.
The company began mining the Trouser Legs mine in December and as of June has recovered 2,537 ounces of gold – which would have a market value of approximately $4.4 million.
‘Eat dust or piss off’
Station owner Leo Thomas said he was disappointed by the relatively small penalty.
“The fine should have been much higher to reflect the seriousness and gravity of being continually bombarded for over 10 months with dust emissions from Hawthorn Resources," he told NITV News.
Mr Thomas and his nephew Lawrence say they have been subjected to intimidation and racist abuse by employees from the nearby mine since 2015.
“The whole thing reminds me of a holocaust,” Mr Thomas said.
“No person in the whole of Australia should ever have to be subjected to [these] levels of racial discrimination.”
One of the posters left on their property, threatened the Wongatha Elders they would “end up” like Elijah Doughty, the Aboriginal teenager killed in a 2016 vigilante attack in Kalgoorlie.
Other messages referred to the WA Mining Minister Bill Johnston, saying: "Minister Johnston and DMIRS support us," and "Eat out dust + put up with noise or piss off”.
Mr Thomas told NITV in June that the abuse he has been exposed was “sickening”.
“In all my lifetime, I have never encountered a company who has been so disrespectful towards us as Aboriginal people,” he said.
“We would be far better off going and living in Afghanistan or Syria or just committing suicide because the regulator who is supposed to protect us is just supporting all of this which has been happening for over seven months."
After the media reported on the racist signs, Hawthorn Resources categorically denied any involvement.
“Hawthorn, its officers, its employees, its partners and contractors had no part in creating or erecting the posters and categorically deny any allegations of this nature,” the company said in emailed statement.
“Hawthorn reported this matter to the Western Australian Police immediately upon discovery, and is assisting them with their investigations. The company finds the posters highly offensive, and takes any allegations surrounding them seriously.”
The parliamentary investigation will hand down its report in February.