Dispute over seabed mining negotiations in east Arnhem Land as mining company looks to pull out of the Northern Territory

“Seabed mining is out of the question, I want it there for my children, my grandchildren and my people,” 

“Northern Manganese, they are a small company, but like all mining companies, they only have one objective, profit.

“We value our family better than what we value a dollar.”

Daniel Fitzgerald | ABC

A dispute has broken out between traditional owners, the Northern Land Council (NLC) and shareholders of a company interested in seabed mining in east Arnhem Land.

There is a dispute over mining interests in Blue Mud Bay in east Arnhem Land. (supplied: Google Maps)

There is a dispute over mining interests in Blue Mud Bay in east Arnhem Land. (supplied: Google Maps)

A general meeting had to be held last month by Northern Manganese, which has interests to explore for minerals in Blue Mud Bay, in an attempt to resolve the issue.

In August, a group of breakaway shareholders, unhappy with the company’s financial performance and the way the directors have handled the Blue Mud Bay project, tried to replace the board for the second time.

They said they were approached by Conway Bush-Blanasi, a spokesperson for the Traditional Owners in the area, who told them the major indigenous stakeholders supported renewed corporate action and wanted new leadership at Northern Manganese.

The attempt to replace the board failed, but questions remain over who the company should be negotiating with.

Mr Bush-Blanasi said Traditional Owners had the right to bypass the Northern Land Council.

“[The NLC] is there to listen to traditional owners, it is stated there in the Land Rights Act,” Mr Bush-Blanasi said.

“If traditional owners want to negotiate straight to mining companies, they should be allowed to.

“I speak on behalf of my people and traditional owners, but as for decision making, it takes a lot more than just me.”

While Conway Bush-Blanasi wants to negotiate directly with Northern Manganese over the east Arnhem interests, it appears the company does not want to negotiate with him.

This is despite the company welcoming the direct approach by Traditional Owners in 2012.

In a statement issued to shareholders last month, the company said it had asked the NLC if it represented the Traditional Owners of Blue Mud Bay in relation to exploration licence applications.

The NLC replied it did and that it did not support the attempted removal of the Northern Manganese board.

In the past, some of the Traditional Owners from Blue Mud Bay have argued in favour of seabed mining.

While Conway Bush-Blanasi wanted to fight for his right to negotiate directly with mining companies, he said he did not want any seabed mining in Blue Mud Bay.

“Seabed mining is out of the question, I want it there for my children, my grandchildren and my people,” Mr Bush-Blanasi said.

“We are looking at all projects, not only mining, Indigenous people have to look at anything and everything and what is sustainable out on country.

“Northern Manganese, they are a small company, but like all mining companies, they only have one objective, profit.

“We value our family better than what we value a dollar.”

A Northern Territory moratorium on seabed mining since 2012, renewed in March this year for another three years, prevents Northern Manganese from any further mineral exploration.

The company stated in a letter to shareholders, because of the moratorium, coupled with high exploration costs and low commodities prices, the time for a mine “is not now.”

Northern Manganese has offered the breakaway shareholders the chance to buy all the company’s Northern Territory’s interests, saying it wanted to focus on a gold project in Western Australia instead.

Mr Bush-Blanasi said he had also been told the company was moving out of the Northern Territory, and he thought there should be opportunities for traditional owners to take on its exploration licences.

“I spoke with [Northern Manganese] three or four months ago and they said they want to leave the Territory,” he said.

“I was thinking, as an Indigenous businessman, not as a traditional owner, if [Northern Manganese] is going to do that, what chance do landowners have to get their own [exploration licences] over their own country.

“So they can deal with the [mining companies] their own way, [then] call the NLC in to make sure everything is okay.”

Northern Manganese and the Northern Land Council were contacted for comment but no responses have been received.

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Filed under Australia, Environmental impact, Exploration

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