Fifteen years ago Yvonne Margarula − Senior Traditional Owner of the Mirarr clan – was arrested for 'trespassing' on her traditional land at Jabiluka in the Northern Territory of Australia. The action was part of the ultimately successful campaign to prevent uranium. The Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation released the following statement to mark the anniversary.
In the early hours of May 19, 1998, Yvonne Margarula was arrested along three other Aboriginal people − Jacqui Katona, Christine Christophersen and Reuben Nango − on the Jabiluka mineral lease. The highly controversial proposed Jabiluka uranium mine was under construction at the time of the arrests but development of the mine was eventually halted as a result of the campaign lead by Ms Margarula.
Ms Margarula argued that her protest against the Jabiluka uranium mine was "traditional action taking a modern form" and that her long standing opposition to the mine was fulfilling her duties as a Traditional Owner. However, in an extraordinary court ruling Ms Margarula was found guilty of trespassing on her own land and after appeal was fined $500.
Yvonne's arrest took place on a shipping container which was the property of the mining company and she was aware of the fact that she may be arrested. This combination of factors was enough to see tens of thousands of years of living culture and connection with land overruled by the imposition of an unwanted mining project. Amidst significant publicity surrounding this ludicrous legal situation, Yvonne's fine was anonymously paid and legal history was made.
Fifteen years ago Yvonne Margarula stood on her country and said no to unwanted mining just as her father said no to unwanted mining on Mirarr country at Ranger fifteen years before that. The efforts of the Mirarr to protect their country and culture continue. Please support the Mirarr in their continued fight to ensure responsibility at Ranger and to permanently protect Jabiluka.
Report on Australian mining companies and Indigenous peoples
Oxfam Australia has published a report revealing that the vast majority of Australian mining, oil and gas companies have no clear public commitment to gain the consent of Indigenous peoples before commencing projects on their land.
The report, 'The Right to Decide: Company Commitments and Community Consent', reviews the statements and guidelines of 53 mining, oil and gas companies among the top 200 listed companies on the Australian Securities Exchange and finds that only one Australian company had policies and a position to consider Indigenous peoples' rights, including their ability to participate in decisions that affect them, their land and natural resources. The report also finds only 14 of the 53 companies have published a commitment to uphold human rights throughout their operations, which is particularly concerning given the extractives sector accounts for two-thirds of the alleged human rights abuses by private corporations, reported by NGOs.
Meanwhile, federal Labor MP Dr Andrew Leigh, a former economist, discussed the 'resource curse' at a Mining for Development Conference in Sydney. Leigh said: "Like Australia, many developing countries are well-endowed with natural resources and yet we all know of the 'resource curse' − the fact that developing nations who have more natural resources tend to have lower growth rates and perform more poorly on indicators of democracy. 'This 'resource curse' arises because mineral endowments are easier for non-democratic leaders to expropriate than incomes derived from other sources, such as farming, industry or services.
"The curse can be seen in the history of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country whose extraordinary mineral wealth has more often been a source of conflict than a wellspring of prosperity. In developed nations, oil and mineral assets generally raise living standards across the board but the term 'resource curse' was coined because of the tendency for developing countries with natural resources to grow more slowly than those without natural resources."
The Oxfam report is posted at https://www.oxfam.org.au/fpic