Jaru people and Northern Minerals

Browns Range Project Co-existence Agreement

In July 2017, Northern Minerals Ltd held its official sod-turning ceremony at the mining company’s A$56 million Browns Range heavy rare earths pilot project, about 160 kilometres south-east of Halls Creek in Western Australia.

Western Australia Government Member for Kimberley Josie Farrer, Northern Minerals Managing Director George Bauk and Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan at the sod-turning ceremony

The three-year pilot plant project will assess the technical and economic feasibility of a full-scale A$329 million project to capitalise on global demand for dysprosium, which is used to make permanent magnets.

A key factor in proceeding with the pilot plant was Northern Mineral’s relationship with the project site’s traditional owners, the Jaru people.

In June 2014, the company had negotiated the Browns Range project co-existence agreement with the Jaru people. The agreement was put to about 200 traditional owners at a two-day meeting at Ringer Soak, about 50 kilometres north-west of the project site.

Under the co-existence agreement the Jaru people consented to the granting of a mining lease to the company in exchange for a benefits package, which included financial payments, share options and other support to Ringer Soak and Jaru communities.

Negotiating the agreement

By February 2016 Northern Minerals found it necessary to announce a new business plan to support the pathway to production for the Browns Range project. This plan, which separated the project’s development into three stages (starting with a pilot plant project), was a response to a weakness in rare earth prices and other factors. This meant Northern Minerals needed to renegotiate with the traditional owners because it would now proceed with a much smaller project.

Northern Minerals Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer George Bauk says the negotiations were concluded quickly because the Jaru people ‘were willing to accept reduced benefits in the short-term because they could see the long-term benefits that could flow’.

Northern Minerals has agreed all the benefits originally negotiated in the co-existence agreement will be preserved, and will flow-on should the company proceed to full-scale production.

Engaging early with the local community

Bauk says the Jaru people’s preparedness to facilitate the pilot plant project was a product of the company’s decision to engage early with the local community during the exploration phase.

‘We began developing the relationship with the local people the very first time we entered their country, which was about 10 years ago,’ says Bauk.

At the time there was no native title determination over the land, which meant the company was not under any legal obligation to engage with the local people.

The Jaru people’s native title application was registered on 16 March 2012, acknowledging them as the traditional owners of the land. The Jaru determination covers 28,915 square kilometres of country north of the Tanami Desert and south of Halls Creek.

‘Fortunately, we ignored some legal advice that said we didn’t need to consult and set about immediately developing a relationship and goodwill,’ says Bauk. ‘The company, for example, commenced cultural heritage surveys on the exploration sites before there was any requirement to do so.

‘So when it came to negotiating the co-existence agreement we were in a very good position. At the first formal meeting with the Jaru group many of the traditional owners already knew who we were. This helped us streamline the negotiation process.’

'Fortunately, we ignored some legal advice that said we didn’t need to consult and set about immediately developing a relationship and goodwill. So when it came to negotiating the co-existence agreement we were in a very good position.'

George Bauk, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Northern Minerals

Working in plain English

In negotiating the agreement Northern Minerals sought to understand the types of clauses that typically exist in agreements and develop a clear position on key issues. The use of plain English was important as many Jaru people speaking English as a second or third language. Northern Minerals developed plain English communication materials and presentations to facilitate negotiations.

KRED Enterprises, an Aboriginal charitable trust, helped the Jaru people negotiate the co-existence agreement. KRED Chief Executive Officer Wayne Bergmann agrees that negotiations were expedited because of the good relationship between the company and the Jaru people.

‘It’s important Aboriginal people are seen as part of economic development, not a hindrance to development,’ says Bergmann. ‘

We are confident this agreement protects the Jaru people’s cultural heritage and environment as best it can within Australian law. If the project progresses as planned, it has the potential to provide economic and social benefits to the Jaru people and the wider community.’

Developing long-term relationships

Jaru-named native title applicants Peter Wein and Bonnie Edwards Source: KRED

Bauk says Northern Minerals wanted to build long-term relationships rather than just get people to sign on the dotted line.

‘While the agreement is a formalisation of our relationship, we are committed to ongoing collaboration to ensure future benefits are delivered,' he says.

Traditional owner Desmond Johnson has worked for Northern Minerals for a number of years, first as a ranger, then as community relations officer. He was a named as an applicant in the Jaru native title claim and was present at the signing of the co-existence agreement.

‘The agreement was changed when the project was made smaller, however, we can trust the company to keep its promises if a mine is built,’ says Johnson.

‘Northern Minerals has people come on-site for heritage and cultural surveys and also employs people from Ringer Soak and Halls Creek. We hope that there are more opportunities to give our people jobs in the future'.

Northern Minerals, which includes China’s Huatai Mining and Jilin Jien Nickel Industry Co. as shareholders, maintains its relationships through community consultation forums, on-the-ground consultation and ongoing engagement with the local shire and community leaders.

‘We want to remain in touch with the community and work to address any concerns,’ says Bauk. ‘We want to have earned our social licence to operate.’

Creating a training-to-work program

Northern Minerals and Indigenous development organisation Wunan Foundation has established an A$8.1 million Aboriginal training-to-work (T2W) program at Browns Range to help create jobs for local communities in the East Kimberley.

The program, which has received A$4.8 million in support from the Australian Government’s Building Better Regions Fund, was developed by the Kununurra-based company Wunan, which has operated in the Kimberley since 1997.

‘The development of T2W in partnership with Wunan is an important part of Northern Minerals’ efforts to work closely with our host communities,’ says Bauk.

The onsite classroom training program will help Wunan work towards its aspirational long-term Aboriginal employment target of 20 per cent.

‘The T2W program has been developed based on our workings over the past 20 years, integrating a learning and teaching program that delivers positive outcomes for Aboriginal workers in the East Kimberley,’ says Ian Trust, Chairman of Wunan.

Image 1: (Left to right) Western Australia Government Member for Kimberley Josie Farrer, Northern Minerals Managing Director George Bauk and Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan at the sod-turning ceremony. Source: Northern Minerals.
Image 2: Jaru-named native title applicants Peter Wein and Bonnie Edwards. Source: KRED.