The Western Australian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has intervened in a controversial Kimberley mining site, partially suspending section 18 approvals given for works at the Thunderbird Mineral Sands Project after Traditional Owners alerted his department to a culturally significant object.
On Saturday, Minister Tony Buti wrote to Joombarn-buru Aboriginal Corporation chairperson Daniel Roe to advise him of the decision.
"Today, in accordance with section 18(6C) of the Act, I partially suspended the section 18 consents given in August 2019 and June 2021 for the Thunderbird Mineral Sands Project," he wrote.
"The partial suspension applies to the area within a 25-metre radius of the identified (object)... The consents remain in effect for the remainder of the land subject to those consents.
"This partial suspension remains in effect until I have made a decision pursuant to section 18(6A) of the Act. In making a decision to exercise my powers in response to new information, I will consider any submissions from Joombarn-buru Aboriginal Corporation and from Kimberley Mineral Sands."
Traditional Owners initially raised concerns about the object in October.
On Friday, Mr Roe wrote to Dr Buti to reiterate the urgency of the situation.
"As advised In my October correspondence, an object of high significance... has been located within the registered site boundary of Mount Jowlaenga.
"JbAC note you advised KMS have been granted consent on two occasions for works within tenement MOV/459 that intersects Mount Jowlaenga in 2019 and 2021.
"As noted, the object was found recently by a Traditional Owner and was not known to have existed within Mount Jowlaenga in 2019 or 2022 and therefore could not have been considered when making a decision in relation to the 2019 and 2022 section 28 consents.
"JbAC therefore urgently advises you the identification of the (object) at Mount Jowlaenga is considered new information for the purposes of section 6(a) of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (WA) (AHA) and the consents be revoked immediately."
National Indigenous Times understands that a senior Traditional Owner said the object cannot be touched or moved.
Mr Roe said jbAC advises the object is of such significance a senior men's and senior women's gathering is required to assess it.
Kimberley Mineral Sands' Chief Operating Officer Michael Rose told National Indigenous Times that KMS was "aware of the object and reported it the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs as per the requirements of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972".
"KMS has placed a 25 metre buffer zonearound the object and further protection with a 1.5 metre high earthen windrow. In addition, the object is demarcated through the KMS mapping system," he said.
"We look forward to working with Joombarn Buru Aboriginal Corporation and the Department of Lands, Planning and Heritage."
The Thunderbird project has been the centre of controversy for some time. Traditional Owners have previously raised concerns about cultural and environment impacts as well as the lack of tangible benefit to Traditional Owners. The site was also recently the scene of a major diesel spill.