On 21 September, the National Native Title Tribunal (NNTT) made a determination under s 38 NTA that four mining leases were unable to be granted to Weld Range Metals Ltd ("Weld"). Weld wants to mine for chromium and nickel in the Weld Range area, to the southwest of Meekathara in Western Australia. The in-ground value of the resources has been reported as $84 billion.
Negotiations had taken place under the NTA between Weld and the registered native title party (the Wajarri Yamatji native title claim group), but these negotiations did not lead to agreement. Weld then referred the issue to the NNTT for determination. The NNTT undertook a future act determination inquiry in accordance with s 39 NTA, including two days of on-country evidence by the Wajarri Yamatji people.
The NNTT found that Weld Range and the surrounding area were of great importance to the Wajarri Yamatji. This included evidence about the Wilgie Mia Aboriginal Ochre Mine, located about 8 kilometres south of the proposed mining lease area. Wilgie Mia is on the National Heritage List. It is also a registered site and protected place under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (WA). It is located on the Wilgie Mia Aboriginal Reserve, an area set aside for the use and benefit of Aborigines. It also emerged during the inquiry that the location of the resources intended to be mined is directly underneath a traditional Aboriginal quarry site which is of particular significance to the Wajarri Yamatji people.
In comments to the ABC, President of the National Native Title Tribunal, Graeme Neate, says the tribunal found the value of the land to Aboriginal people outweighed the economic benefits of mining: "This area around where the mining tenements were proposed is of such significance in terms of the sites and the stories and ceremonies and so on associated with the range that it important that that area be protected."
The full text of the decision is available here: http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/cth/NNTTA/2011/172.html