Chinese super-company Shanghai CRED has allegedly breached the Yakka Munga Station and Nyikina Mangala Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) by clearing land on the station to make way for irrigation channels and a dam.
Nyikina Mangala Traditional Owner Wayne Bergmann expressed his concern that activities were underway without native title approval.
Mr Bergmann told NIT that clearing of an area approximately 10km by 10km has commenced in the last week.
He claimed a representative from Shanghai CRED’s Australian arm, Zenith Australia Investment Holdings, told him the company was just building roads.
“I was blown away at seeing the extent of land clearing going on. They’re building it twice as wide as the highway and scraping out water channels for irrigation,” Mr Bergmann said.
“There are no approvals under any native title agreement and no government approvals or permits.”
Mr Bergmann said it is “outrageous” that there has been no consultation with Traditional Owners.
“This area was once populated with our ancestors. They’ve knocked over important trees and places where our people historically have been buried,” Mr Bergmann said.
“There’s been no heritage survey or clearance or approval by Traditional Owners.”
Mr Bergmann said he has requested a stop work order through his native title group Walalakoo Aboriginal Corporation from WA State Government ministers, including from the Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan, Environment Minister Stephen Dawson, and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt.
“I’m concerned about the impact on the environment. These areas are known bilby habitats,” Mr Bergmann said.
The bilby is already listed as a vulnerable species in WA and endangered in other states.
Mr Bergmann is also concerned about the impact of collecting this volume of water on the area’s water systems.
“The area being cleared for the dam is as wide as the Broome airport,” Mr Bergmann said.
Nyikina Mangala Traditional Owner Robert Watson has aired similar concerns at the apparent lack of consultation.
“I think it’s a missed opportunity to start off on the right foot. We’ve worked long and hard over many years to engage and provide certainty to developers,” Mr Watson said.
“Here we have a foreign company coming into our backyard, and there’s been no dialogue, no consultation whatsoever.”
Mr Watson said Traditional Owners should have been given the opportunity to be part of the conversation around the development.
“It’s very alarming … they haven’t abided by the processes that are there in terms of the approvals that are required. We’re not aware that any of those [approvals] have been sought,” Mr Watson said.
Mr Watson told NIT that Traditional Owners made many enquiries to Yakka Munga before sending people up to the station to see what was going on.
“Indigenous people have a responsibility; we have cultural obligations. We have the opportunity to engage the community so that they know what’s going on …” Mr Watson said.
Mr Watson said ILUAs give certainty and understanding to all involved and that it is “quite insulting” that Shanghai CRED has ignored the ILUA.
“Clearing like that, vast areas of land, has a number of impacts,” Mr Watson said.
Mr Watson said the next steps will be bringing the issue to Minister Alannah MacTiernan, looking at the implications such clearing will have for the environment, and figuring out the cost to country.
“It’s a shame. Our position right now is calling on the Minister to bring a halt to these current developments,” Mr Watson said.
Mr Watson also said doing business in Australia means working with many different stakeholders, Indigenous or otherwise.
“We want to bring this company to the table and work out what’s going on,” Mr Watson said.
“This is the way that we do business in this country, we want to encourage them to go through the protocols and follow the processes that everyone else has to.”
Mr Watson expressed his disappointment that some developers are still choosing to bulldoze over Indigenous country and Australia’s Indigenous heritage.
“It’s one of Australia’s hidden assets, Indigenous Australia is so unique and significant. Much of Australia still needs to understand that,” Mr Watson said.
In 2016 Shanghai Cred paid $8.75 million for Yakka Munga station to Buru Energy, a company that has previously been accused of clearing Indigenous heritage sites without Traditional Owner approval.
NIT attempted to contact Zenith Australia Investment Holdings for comment however no response was received by time of publication.
By Hannah Cross
Editor’s note: Traditional Owner Wayne Bergmann is also part-owner of National Indigenous Times.