Date: 15 February 2022
The Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA) welcomes the NT Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Chansey Paech’s decision to uphold AAPA’s finding that McArthur River Mine Pty Ltd (MRM) must undertake consultation with sacred site custodians before it commences any expansion.
MRM operates a lead and zinc mine approximately 45 kilometres south-west of Borroloola in the Gulf of Carpentaria, with 21 sacred sites located within or in the vicinity of the mine site.
Under the Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act, AAPA is recognised as the expert body for identifying and consulting with Aboriginal custodians and for issuing Authority Certificates, which set out the conditions under which proposed work near sacred sites may be carried out.
In March 2017 MRM made an application to amend its Authority Certificate to allow a complex mine expansion, which includes raising the height of the ‘northern overburden emplacement facility’ (NOEF) from 80 metres to 140 metres. The NOEF is immediately adjacent to Damangani, Barramundi Dreaming.
In November 2017 AAPA found that MRM had not reached an agreement with the relevant custodians regarding the mine’s plans to expand. AAPA attempted to assist MRM with consultation with custodians and suggested alternative ways in which a satisfactory agreement might be made. MRM did not pursue these options, and appealed AAPA’s decision with the Minister.
AAPA CEO Dr Benedict Scambary said the NT has a strong, clear system to ensure the protection of sacred sites, and to give developers certainty and confidence when carrying out works.
“Today’s decision upholds AAPA’s expertise and processes, and puts all developers on notice that lipservice to consultation is not good enough. Protecting sacred sites is not a box to be ticked, or an obstacle to be sidestepped. Aboriginal custodians must give free, prior and informed consent to development.”
AAPA Chair Mr Bobby Nunggumarjbarr said the sacred sites tell the story of our country.
“Aboriginal custodians have a responsibility to protect and maintain their sacred sites. MRM needs to walk our country with us, and explain what they want to do. They must let us look after the sacred sites.
“The miners will be gone in 30 years. But we will still be here.”
Media Contact: Kate Sieper 0466 745 615
THE ABORIGINAL AREAS PROTECTION AUTHORITY (AAPA) IS AN INDEPENDENT STATUTORY ORGANISATION ESTABLISHED UNDER THE NORTHERN TERRITORY ABORIGINAL SACRED SITES ACT, AND IS RESPONSIBLE FOR OVERSEEING THE PROTECTION OF ABORIGINAL SACRED SITES ON LAND AND SEA ACROSS THE WHOLE OF AUSTRALIA’S NORTHERN TERRITORY.