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New spin on Mitchell Plateau NT talks

A NATIVE Title rights win over a large area in the Kimberley has added a new dimension to last-minute talks between the State Government and several big miners regarding control of a large, untapped bauxite deposit.

The Mitchell Plateau, which holds the deposits, is partly covered by the 59,903 square kilometre Wanjina/Wungurr-Willinggin Native Title and the 7229sq km Ngarinyin Native Title claim, between Derby and Wyndham.

The plateau also contains estimated bauxite reserves of 370 million tonnes and the Government has until the end of the year to decide whether the current lease arrangements should be maintained.

A Federal Court decision last Monday means that the Native Title claimant groups have exclusive rights over some of the areas claimed.

The court also decided that the people have non-exclusive rights over other parts.

The Mitchell Plateau is also subject to another claim by the Uunguu people, however that is yet to be decided.

None of the joint venture parties –Alcoa Australia, Rio Tinto and AngloGold – involved in the 30-year-old State agreement with a joint venture would comment on the plans for the resource.

However, Rio Tinto spokesman Andy Munro said the Native Title claims would not change the relationship and the current work being done with local Aboriginal people in the area.

And while the Government has initially welcomed the Federal Court’s decision, Taylor Linfoot & Holmes partner and Native Title negotiator Marcus Holmes said the decision would be weighing on the State’s mind.

He said it would be a factor it considered when deciding whether to extend the agreement or encourage foreign interests.

“The State and any current or future developer of that area will have to factor in this week’s finding by the court and the need to deal with Native Title compensation for the impact of past and proposed mining or exploration works there,” Mr Holmes said.

The WA Chamber of minerals and Energy director David Parker declined to comment about the future of the resource, saying the negotiations were currently confidential. 

State Development Minister Clive Brown met with the joint venture parties last week but could not be contacted for comment.

Last week the Government confirmed that foreign parties, including a group from Russia, had shown an interest in the deposit.

Under the terms of the State agreement the joint venture parties were obligated to develop the bauxite reserves, establish bauxite mining and beneficiation operation, and an alumina plant.

However, while these obligations have not been fulfilled, extensive exploration and feasibility studies have been conducted at the plateau.

It is thought the deposits have not been developed yet because of the isolated area they are located as well as processing difficulties.

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