Indigenous protesters take on Chinese company in land clearing blockade

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Aboriginal native title holders have staged a protest at a remote Kimberley cattle station, claiming the Chinese owners of the lease have destroyed their cultural sites in a major land-clearing operation.

Key points:

  • Protesters have gathered at a cattle station where the Chinese lease-holder is undertaking a land-clearing operation
  • Native title holders say the the clearing is being carried out without negotiation, in breach of their agreement with the company
  • WA’s Department of Water and Environmental Regulation is investigating the matter

The small group of Nyikina people, who have shared rights to the area, are blockading the entrance to Yakka Munga station, south of Derby, preventing contractors from entering.

The protest follows concern over land clearing at the site by the owners of the pastoral lease, Shanghai Zenith (the Australian arm of Shanghai CRED) Investment Holding Pty Ltd.

The company has declined to comment, but WA’s Department of Water and Environmental Regulation is carrying out an investigation into the clearing.

In a statement, the Department said the company had cleared a boundary track 24 kilometres long and 50 metres wide.

A spokesman said it was still investigating whether Shanghai Zenith had complied with the Environmental Protection Act.

Protest organiser, Rosita Shaw, was close to tears as she explained the significance of the land.

“This foreign company just come to our land, on our back yard, don’t even come and negotiate with us,” Ms Shaw said.

“They are just being so ruthless and ripping our country up.

“Our old people walked this country.

“All this has meaning to us … it was passed down to us from our ancestors.

“We still practise that today … bring our young ones out on country.”

Police attended the scene later in the morning and the discussions were peaceful.

Native title deal breached, say traditional owners

The Nyikina Mangala people’s native title rights over a 26,000 square kilometre area were recognised in 2014.

They have exclusive rights over 40 percent of the claim area, including three Aboriginal pastoral stations and co-existing rights over Yakka Munga.

An Indigenous Land Use Agreement setting out the rights of the pastoralists and the native title holders was signed by Shanghai Zenith in 2016.

The document states that nothing in the agreement “limits the rights of the pastoralist to conduct pastoral activities in the agreement area”.

But it also says that the pastoralist must first enter into “good faith negotiations” to ensure that “heritage is protected”.

Shanghai Zenith ‘compliant’ with lease

Pastoralists and Graziers Association president Tony Seabrook said he had met with representatives from Shanghai Zenith and he was convinced that the work was permitted under the terms of the pastoral lease.

“The core of it is roads,” he said.

“They are building some extensive watering points for livestock.

Native title holder's video of the land clearing at Yakka Munga Station.

“There’s an area there where they are hoping to get water off paddocks and contained in a more effective manner.

“They are compliant with their lease.”

Mr Seabrook also maintained that Shanghai Zenith had consulted with traditional owners on the ground.

‘Considerable concern’

Following questions from Liberal MP, Jim Chown, Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan told parliament yesterday that she was concerned about the land clearing.

“As far as we understand, this has occurred without any authorisation,” Ms MacTiernan said.

“It does seem to be of very considerable concern to us.

“We are seeking a response from the relevant agencies.”

Shanghai CRED is major player in the cattle industry.

According to a WA Government profile, it has two main agricultural investment operations in Australia.

It owns seven properties in Western Australia including Yakka Munga and Mount Elizabeth stations.

The profile said it also had a joint venture with Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting called Australian Outback Beef (AOB).

Its assets include 150,000 cattle on stations covering 80,000 square kilometres across three states and the Northern Territory, the document said.