Yandicoogina Regional Land Use Agreement
|1 March 1997
|Land Use Agreement
|Western Australia, Australia
| | | Cultural Heritage | Economic Development | Employment and Training | Environmental Heritage | Mining and Minerals | Recognition of Traditional Rights and Interests | Land Use | Native Title
|The Yandicoogina Agreement was the first regional land use agreement for a major resource project to be concluded after the Mabo decision. The agreement was formally negotiated over a period of 12 months and covered an area of 26,000 square kilometres in the Central Pilbara.
The land use agreement was signed in March 1997 between Hamersley Iron Pty Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of Rio Tinto, and Gumala Aboriginal Corporation, representing the native title claimants of the land, the Niapiali, the Bunjima (Panyjima) and the Innawonga (Yinhawangka).
|The land use agreement concerned Hamersley’s iron ore mine, its construction and associated infrastructure.
In the initial stages of planning, Hamersley executives discussed the location of a proposed rail spur with Aboriginal elders. As a result of this consultation, and as a result of a changing corporate culture, the company decided to attempt an alternative planning procedure to those previously adopted. Realising the relevance of native title, the company intended to encourage a process of consultation and negotiation with the Indigenous people of the area.
The first public announcement of the mine was delivered with the release of the Consultative Environmental Review. Hamersley ‘externalised’ all of the internal planning that had so far occurred in order to make their process transparent and accessible to the wider public.
Hamersley recognised the importance of consulting with a wide range of interest groups and encouraged community relations through personal contact. This not only opened lines of communication with the Aboriginal community, but helped to foster a sense of understanding between the different parties. Information about the progress of the project was consistently shared, and the opportunity to contribute ideas and views about the best way to proceed was encouraged.
A number of structured interviews were also conducted with members of the National Native Title Tribunal, leading politicians, government departments, Aboriginal Legal Services, local land councils and other relevant persons and organisations. These helped to clarify the issues and expand an understanding of all the procedures that should be involved.
Consequently, the company was beginning to understand more clearly who to include in negotiations, what topics needed to be discussed and how they should be structured. An independent facilitator/mediator, who was acceptable to all parties, was then employed to direct the process.
Major bush meetings were held which members of the Aboriginal communities and company personnel attended. The elders confirmed the appointment of a lawyer, and the representatives of the company were present to provide updated information on the procedures, address misinformation, and communicate their intentions.
At one of these meetings, the Bunjima, Niapali and Innawonga language groups concluded that they would unite for the purposes of the negotiation under a new Aboriginal Corporation called ‘Gumala’ (the Bunjima word for ‘all together’).
The Gumala Aboriginal Corporation was constituted with a governing body of eighteen, with six elected representatives of each group. In preparation for the negotiations, the corporation consulted a community planning and management officer and obtained independent commercial advice. A negotiating team of ten was then finalised by the Gumala’s governing committee.
Prior to the commencement of formal negotiations, a ‘protocol’, drafted by the mediator was circulated which set the ground rules and tone of the negotiation process. Two basic principles were established:
(i) that since the parties had to coexist in the Pilbara region for the foreseeable future, they should explore outcomes that could provide long-term benefits and security for both; and
(ii) that the negotiations should be conducted in good faith to build upon the mutual trust and goodwill that had already been established.
The negotiations were conducted in private and under confidentiality agreements, and all public announcements were made either through the mediator or by a joint press release.
The Gumala team consistently reported back to the committee who then informed the wider community.
The mediator oversaw all negotiations, gave structure to the proceedings, and isolated issues and encouraged options for resolution. Less controversial issues were tackled first and a process of staged agreements emerged beginning with the protocol, progressing through an agreement on the conduct of heritage surveys and a memorandum of understanding, and culminating in the final land use agreement and the tripartite agreement with the State government.
There were six formal mediation sessions in total held over three months, until they ceased due to a deadlock. The sessions were often intense, lasting for two full days. The deadlock was eventually broken and an agreement made in principle. It had been earlier accepted that any agreement that was reached would be fully explained and ratified by a general meeting of Gumala. Once this process concluded, the agreement with Hamersley was approved.
A small ceremony was held to acknowledge the agreement made, and a joint press release was circulated.
In order to make the agreement legally binding, certain procedures within the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) had to be completed. In December 1996, notices of intent to grant leases over the project area were issued under section 29 of the Native Title Act, and a two month waiting period followed to see if any other native title claimants emerged. Hamersley, Gumala and the State Government then agreed in writing that the leases could be granted, and a copy of the Tripartite Agreement was lodged with the Native Title Tribunal.
The Land Use Agreement was then signed by approximately one hundred people, and was formally approved at a general meeting.