Indigenous leader plans own mine
Ashleigh Wilson
8th August 2005

FORMER Northern Land Council chief Galarrwuy Yunupingu has unveiled a radical plan to start his own mining company in an attempt to grab a larger share of the resources on Aboriginal land.

Mr Yunupingu, who remains the Northern Territory's most powerful indigenous leader despite retiring from the NLC last year, also attacked mining company Alcan, saying it had failed to negotiate a partnership agreement with the local Aboriginal people.

"This is where the land rights act started, but they are still treating me like I'm a piece of shit, you know, and I'm not going to have that," he said.

Speaking at the Garma festival of Aboriginal culture in northeast Arnhem Land, Mr Yunupingu said he now wanted to "cut out the middle man" and open his own mine.

"I will make more money by opening up my mining company on my own instead of royalties," he said. "Other people running away with our resources is the problem here."

Mr Yunupingu gave no details about the mine proposal, nor did he explain how he would raise the money to finance its operation.

The Howard Government is investigating claims by two of Mr Yunupingu's family members relating to the distribution of mining royalties and grant funds worth up to $50million.

It follows a series of exclusive reports in The Australian in June that Mr Yunupingu was at the centre of a family rift over the fate of the millions.

Many people in his remote coastal homelands in Arnhem Land live in squalor while he has the use of four houses, a helicopter and a fleet of cars, according to the reports.

Mr Yunupingu issued a statement at the time saying royalties were "regularly audited and lawfully expended" and he dismissed concerns from relatives, including his fourth son, Sammy Yunupingu, that only some in the family had benefited from Mr Yunupingu's distribution of up to $5million a year in royalties, grants and rents: "Complaints by disgruntled family members are just that."

Mr Yunupingu refused to speak to The Australian at Garma yesterday, but he has told ABC radio he wants to "open up Arnhem Land mining reserves".

"I know the community in general, right around this country, I'll have their support," he said in an interview with Radio National's Late Night Live to be broadcast this week, "Because I'm talking about the first Yolngu (east Arnhem Land people) mining company in Australia."

Referring to the concerns about the fate of previous mining royalties, Mr Yunupingu said: "I will rise and negotiate so that there's more money they can attack me about."

Alcan said yesterday it had heard nothing to suggest a new mine was going to be built.

"There's no discussion or thought of starting up another alumina refinery. The cost of that is just massive," said David Sutherland, director of business planning and development for Alcan's bauxite and alumina group.

Mr Sutherland also disputed Mr Yunupingu's claim that Alcan had not taken enough steps to involve Aboriginal people in the mine.

He said the company had been working with Mr Yunupingu and the NLC for the past year to draw up a memorandum of understanding that would "provide a forum for discussion with the traditional owners".

He said the agreement would lead to further business opportunities for Aboriginal people.

Mr Sutherland also said Alcan had employed a local indigenous company, Yirrkala Business Enterprises, to do hauling work for the mine.