Justice denied: winning the battle but losing the war. The battle for economic independence and self-determination by the Wik and Wik Way people

Wednesday, 1 June 2016
Richie Ah Mat

This presentation addresses the current struggle with the Queensland Government over the development of the Aurukun bauxite deposit, a rich vein of minerals that sits within the determined country of the Wik and Wik Way Peoples. In addition to being subject to an exclusive determination of native title it is also Aboriginal freehold. After 40 years of failed promises to develop the Aurukun bauxite deposit the Wik and Wik Way People entered into a joint venture- agreement to develop the resource.

The agreement provided them with an equity share in the company, seats on the board and ambitious employment and contracting targets. The agreement differed significantly from previous mining agreements negotiated upon Cape York and was considered the only way to stimulate much needed economic development in an area that is considered one of the most disadvantaged communities in Australia.

The competitive bid process took place within the shadow of the ‘Aurukun Provisions’, the shorthand reference given to special legislation introduced by the Qld Government which deliberately suppressed rights ordinarily enjoyed by other land owners in Queensland under the Mineral Resources Act 1989 (Qld). The Aurukun Provisions are currently the subject of a High Court challenge on the basis of its discriminatory effect upon the Wik and Wik Way People.

This paper discusses the formidable alliance of commercial, institutional and political interests preventing Native Title Holders and Aboriginal Freeholders from leveraging their rights in land to achieve economic independence.