Traditional owners happy at mine deals

The Australian

AFTER 14 years of negotiations, Energy Resources of Australia Ltd (ERA) has signed agreements for the Ranger uranium mine that local Aboriginal people say gives them a better deal.

"The negotiations, which involved some very complex legal, cultural, and operational considerations, have taken many years and much hard work by all parties," said ERA chief executive Rob Atkinson.

The deals come after 14 years of talks between ERA and Mirarr traditional owners, the Northern Land Council and the federal government.

They cover existing operations at Ranger and historic issues that have been outstanding for years but not future plans for the open-cut mine, located in the Northern Territory's Kakadu National Park.

Mr Atkinson said the new deal heralded a strengthening of ties between his company and the Mirarr people, who are the traditional owners of the land.

In the past the Mirarr people have been critical of the way ERA has treated the land and feared damage to sacred sites by the miner.

"We the Mirarr are happy that today, after so long, we have a fairer agreement for mining at Ranger," said clan elder Yvonne Margarula.

"My father never agreed to Ranger. Our right to stop the mine was taken away by the government."

Under the new deals, Mirarr people will get a greater share of income from the mine and a trust will be set up to deliver social programs in the region.

Some aspects of the deals will be backdated.

A Relationship Committee will also be established to ensure better sharing of information between the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation (GAC), which represents the Mirarr people.

There will also be better job opportunities and training for local Aboriginal people.

The new agreements don't include a deal on the company's 3 Deeps project, which ERA hopes will prolong the life of the Ranger operation by mining underground.

On current estimates, ERA will be forced to mine only stockpiles of ore within months, Mr Atkinson told AAP.

The underground operation is expected to support production once stockpiles are depleted in about 2021.

Northern Land Council chairman Wali Wunungmurra said it was pleasing to see ERA negotiating to give traditional owners true benefits from the mine.

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