Working to build closer relationships

A QUIET revolution has been occurring in regional WA during the past few years with regard to the negotiation of mining leases.

Miners and explorers are starting to see the benefits of engaging local communities in negotiated outcomes rather than going through the litigation process.

Large miners in particular now see a close relationship with the local community as good for business and part of their core competency.

But according to Chamber of Minerals and Energy executive officer of Aboriginal Affairs Ross Theedom, it is more than just a public relations exercise for these companies.

“It pays to work with the people around you. It’s not just commercial reasons,” Dr Theedom said.

The larger companies have taken the lead, but Dr Theedom believes many of the smaller companies will follow their example.

“It’s the 100-monkey syndrome. Critical mass is doing it so everyone is doing it,” Dr Theedom said.

Going through the courts is no longer seen by many companies as providing the best outcome for both parties.

Yet few within the industry are willing to discount the effect Native Title legislation has in providing an incentive for mining companies to work with Aboriginal stakeholders.

“It (Native Title) has clearly been a significant influence,” National Native Title Tribunal deputy president Fred Chaney told Business News.

Since 1998 the Native Title Tribunal has dealt with 44 Indigenous Land Use Agreements – the vehicle used for negotiated outcomes.

But it is not only Native Title and land access rights that are pushing companies to act. Miners who already have land access and have been operating for years are also seeking agreements with indigenous people, although there is no legal requirement for them to do so.

Mr Chaney sees this as a remarkable development because agreements on brown field sites are not being driven by a need to get mining titles, but in recognition of the benefits of a positive, ongoing relationship.

Dr Theedom admits there remains a high expectation among Aboriginal communities throughout Australia with regard to the potential for a financial windfall if a mining operation is interested in their land.

Agreements are becoming more than just cash handouts, however. The agreement often encompasses employment and training opportunities for Aboriginals.

Last month, Normandy Mining Limited launched a new training course in Wiluna. Normandy has been running indigenous access training programs for the past 10 years at Tennant Creek Granities Mine site and

more recently at the Golden Grove Mine site.

Normandy Mining group executive John Reynolds said the trainees went on to work either with Normandy or other mining companies. Woodside has a similar program in the Pilbara.

Mining companies also are starting to demand their contractors and suppliers form professional relationships with Aboriginals.

Mining contractor Henry Walker Eltin was one to pick up on the benefits of using indigenous employees. It recently formed Ngarda Civil & Mining, a joint venture with Indigenous Business Australia and a Pilbara community foundation, which will provide mining contract services using Aboriginal labour.

“There is clearly a niche for enterprises which are not only able to demonstrate an ability to deliver technical and professional services, but which can also deliver local community involvement and indigenous training and employment,” Henry Walker Eltin CEO Richard Ryan said when launching the venture.

Australian Minerals and Energy Council Aboriginal affairs committee chairman Kate Hobbs believes employing Aboriginals is the way of the future for mining companies.

“I expect that, in 20 to 30 years time, it won’t be seen as remarkable. True reconciliation is when it isn’t remarkable to have an Aboriginal lawyer or politician,” Ms Hobbs said.

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