Aboriginal royalties: A golden deal?


The expansion of Newmont Goldcorp’s operations 500km north-west of Alice Springs will provide additional tens of millions of dollars a year for Warlpiri people who have already amassed assets worth at least $142m, mostly from mining royalties.
But Jane Blunden (at right), a traditional owner, member of the Kurra royalty association and qualified health professional, says the money creates minimal benefit for the people on the ground.
She says the Yuendumu community will be exposed to trauma as the court case about the alleged murder by a police officer of a teenager in Yuendumu unfolds this year.
“It is going to be critical for that community to have professional counselling,” she says.
The partnerships of aid organisations will have to be “very strong to alleviate the distress that is going to come”.
There have been suicides in Balgo: “There is a high percentage of youth suicides. Some of the money should be targeting youth programs, not just Mount Theo [near Yuendumu], which is an alcohol and other drugs facility.
“We need to teach communities to develop their own capacities.”
Ms Blunden says the only benefit from royalty money “that I can see is the dialysis program, but not all of us are going to have kidney diseases or chronic conditions.
“Why not put in place preventative programs?”
She asks why Newmont is not providing meaningful apprenticeship and skill development for young people “to stay in those positions” at the mine.
As for the millions being invested in companies and real estate, she says the process is not transparent and it is unclear what the ultimate benefit will be.
“Those were questions that were asked in the October AGM of Kurra,” Ms Blunden says.
“What is our money doing? There isn’t enough given back to us at AGMs.”
She says the issues will be raised again at the next meeting in April.
The amassed assets figure is shown under “accumulated funds” in the financial statements for the 2017/18 financial year of the Kurra association ($62.6m) and the Granites Mine Affected Areas Aboriginal Corporation (GMAAAC, $79.3m).
It does not include significant amounts paid as “traditional owner distributions” since Newmont added the Tanami to its global operations in 1986, having now produced more than 10 million ounces of gold there.
These statutory payments under the Land Rights Act from mining companies operating on Aboriginal land are not available to non-Aboriginal land holders.
Newmont says it will add a 1460 metre shaft which will have the potential of extending the mine life to 2040, and increasing the annual production of ore from 2.6 to 3.5 million tonnes.
That will be an increase of 34%.
According to Newmont’s website they produced 496,000 ounces of gold in 2018. The expansion is expected to add 150,000 to 200,000 ounces to the annual output, an increase of 30% and 40%, respectively.
Applying an increase of 35% to the royalty payments in the published 2018 financial statements, Kurra would reap an annual royalty income of $17.5m and GMAAAC of $18.8m when the increased production begins in 2023.
“Traditional owner distributions” in 2018 amounted to $7.3m (Kurra) and $6.9m (GMAAAC “authorised”), which would rise to $9.8m and $9.3m, respectively.
GMAAAC had $59.7m listed as “total cash in bank and in hand” in the 2018 financials.
The balance of the money is difficult to trace. It is understood that Centrecorp and GMAAAC Holdings are investment vehicles for GMAAAC, and Wirntiki for Kurra. All three are Pty Ltd companies with minimal public disclosure responsibilities.
“What is Wirntiki actually doing? What social inclusion programs are there that are helping my people?” asks Ms Blunden.
Centrecorp Pty Ltd is owned by the Central Land Council (CLC, three shares). Congress and Tangentyere, recipients of public funds amounting to tens of millions of dollars a year, have two shares each.
In 2018 Congress received $41m from “grants and contributions” plus $7.1m from “Medicare and practice incentive payment income”.
It spent $36m on “employee benefits expenses”.
Tangentyere’s 2018 income of $29.6m included $15.6m in “net recurring grants”, $7.8m from “external contracts” and $5.9m “other income”.
The CLC benefits from the split of total royalties paid by the miner: 30% to Aboriginal people affected by the mining on their land; 40% to Northern Territory land councils and a 30% for the administration of the Aboriginals Benefits Account for distribution to Aboriginal people throughout the NT.
The News has asked for an interview with CLC CEO Joe Martin-Jard but was told by the organisation’s media section that he “has declined”. This impertinent behaviour is clearly sanctioned and encouraged by the Federal Government which has entirely exempted Aboriginal land councils and land trusts from the operation of the Freedom of Information Act.
According to frequent discussions between the Alice Springs News and traditional owners, they, too, are kept in the dark about the dealing with money paid to the royalty associations by Newmont.
A former CLC chairman, Maurie Ryan, made it a priority to get clarity about these issues, with little success.
Centrecorp and Wirntiki are managed out of a modest office in Hartley Street (shown in this 2013 photo). Centrecorp has a substantial portfolio of business and real estate assets.
These developments are likely to re-kindle debate about the value and effectiveness of reverse-discrimination strategies: Are the proceeds applied to offset disadvantage?
Questions are likely to be asked why these funds are not used to offset the billions provided by the taxpayer for Aboriginal welfare.


  1. How can there be any issues with housing and services with this money in someone’s pocket. About the only thing Jacinta Price was going good on, the use of royalties.

  2. Wow! Goes to show the concept of helping your own people with strong culture doesn’t include when you have lots of money.
    Greed affects people of all races.
    I’m willing to bet the rich end of the companies lives nowhere near a community and enjoy a millionaires lifestyle in somewhere like Sydney, but are probably first to put their hand out and cry enough isn’t been done to help their people.
    More focus on who needs the money, stop making the 1% richer and richer.
    Most of these royalties should be spent on housing and lifestyle for these people and not given to a select few but all.

  3. James T Smerk: If you visit Yuendumu you may be surprised at the lack of apparent need.
    Large spacious and up to date houses, some with just one person or a couple living in them.
    Great communications, wifi internet, mobile etc.
    Excellent services, health etc.
    Large and modern adult education / training centre.
    I’m not suggesting this opulence is common in Aboriginal communities.
    A station, near Ti Tree and in fact most of the Barkly communities still suffer homelessness, poverty, the exploitation of paying high prices for food, poor medical services.
    But not at Yuendumu.
    So sad that the community that least needs royalties gets them in abundance.

  4. Royalties gets paid to individuals in Yuendumu, cash.
    This money could be used on improving their life styles, education, health etc.
    But they spend it on grog, cars (that last a few months). They prefer to waste it instead of putting it to good use.
    Now the court case coming up, money could be put to this, but I bet it wont.
    People cry poor pity me, I have nothing, but when royalties come, it is wasted.
    I guarantee they get more money per year then I do working for a living just to put a roof over my head and food on my table.
    Royalties to individuals is not the only thing they get.
    I have known of the mining company paying for and supplying other things to the community as well. Sick of hearing poor me.
    Save your money and put it to good use like the rest of us hard working people.

  5. Royalties is fraught.
    1. There is real need for royalties from associations to be used for community benefit
    2. Many members of the associations do not get a cent (even though they have been verified by CLC genealogists as entitled).
    3. I’d suggest that each member of each of the associations get the same share paid into a superannuation fund.
    People could access their money because even people who are working are still regarded by Centrelink as being under financial hardship – which is a criteria to withdraw money from a super fund.
    Maybe Centrecorp should set up an indigenous super fund that actually helped people to manage their money?

  6. The poor old Wild Berries (Warlpiris), hey. They double dip in everything that is based around $$$.

  7. Under land rights law only 30% of statutory mining royalty equivalents are paid to traditional owners of areas affected by mining [ED – as noted in our report].
    The rest (70%) is reserved for broader benefit: a notional 40% pays the administrative costs of the four land councils and the balance is paid to the Aboriginals Benefit Account (ABA) that either allocates grants to or for the benefit of Indigenous people throughout the NT or accumulates royalty equivalents in a reserve.
    The ABA currently holds over $1 billion in reserves that could be allocated to or for the benefit of Indigenous people, many living in deep poverty.
    [ED – Jon Altman is an emeritus professor of the Australian National University (ANU). He was the founding director of the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR) at the ANU (1990 to 2010) and then a research professor there until 2014 when he retired.]

  8. @ Jon Altman: Thanks for that information. About how much do the four land councils get for their administrative costs from royalties?

  9. The ABA holds over $1 billion in reserves for Indigenous people, many living in deep poverty.
    Aboriginal owned Centrecorp is worth over $70m.
    Aboriginal controlled Congress has a multimillion dollar “reserve” accumulated from its Government funding.
    There sure is a lot of money allocated for Aboriginal people that is not getting to them.
    And it isn’t whitefellas sitting on those riches.

  10. The figures Jon Altman provides are roughly correct.
    As a former manager of the Aboriginals Benefit Account (ABA) I found the lack of transparency I had to work with significant, and of great concern.
    The ABA was then overseen by FaHCSIA (Dept of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs).
    FaHCSIA’s finance and legal teams at head office in Canberra regularly refused to provide advice or information when requested.
    For example, I wished to review the ABA’s accounts over a five year period. My departmental “colleagues” obstructed my request for months (I could only wonder what they were trying to hide).
    Effective reporting, governance and assurance was largely non-existent.
    The ABA Committee members (14 senior appointees from the NT’s four land councils) who we met with regularly, provided me with significant support and expertise – but in return were not given clear and consistent updates on the projects and programs the ABA were funding.
    An external consultant was brought in to review our operations (unnecessary, but one of our managers wanted to throw a bit of money at a former colleague now operating in the “private” sector).
    I made a detailed presentation of the challenges the ABA faced.
    These were ignored (including my concerns about FaHCSIA’s bad habit of trying to access ABA funds to prop up whatever policy thought bubble it was entertaining that week).
    Separate to this, and having failed to access effective advice from our national legal team, I spoke with the Solicitor General’s Office, and the Australian Public Service Commission around a number of governance issues. (The SLG were marginally useful, the APSC refused all requests for assistance.)
    There had been a particular case of the then SIHIP Housing Alliance promising a community organisation (within the NLC’s area of responsibility) ABA funding for a particular project.
    The funding was not provided, the ABA Committee did not recommend the request, and the Minister accepted the Committee’s advice.
    I was rung by the head of the community organisation who promised to “run the Minister through with a spear when their plane touches down for a visit next week”.
    In the short term I managed to have the funding provided (out-of-sitting, a process the ABA Committee had a reasonable dislike for) before the Minister’s visit.
    All things being equal it is not helpful to drop Ministers in trouble.
    In the long term I discovered the Housing Alliance actually had the funds available itself but that it was just seeing, “if we could get it out of the ABA”.
    I raised the issue with my manager who laughed it off, noting, “Ha ha ha, who cares, it was only xxx million dollars!”
    This highlighted the general ignorance of the Canberra bureaucracy for what the ABA represented (a little bit of autonomy for Land Council leaders), and the way in which they misunderstood how we should treat those leaders (with a bit of respect).
    Anyone who knows me is aware I’m no bleeding heart.
    But it beggars belief the ABA is run out of Canberra by a group of bureaucrats (these days PM and C).
    In previous conversations with the then chair of the NLC (Mr W), the current chair of the NLC (Mr B-B), and also Mr Ryan, a proposal for rebasing the ABA in the NT was discussed.
    This would include some kind of prescribed agency arrangement for the ABA, offices in Darwin and Alice Springs, self-funding through a 5% levy on all provided grants, and commonsense up-to-date reporting for committee members so they could see where the money they were approving was going (on an ongoing basis).
    I realise this information is only slightly relevant to the issues raised by Miss Blunden, but clarity seems to be a missing element in this space.
    It helps no-one, but is disrespectful to all.

  11. In addition to the $1 billion mining companies have a “confidential” agreements with Land Councils.
    Example:- Between the Granites Mine and the Central Land Council solicitors for 2.5% of the gold price at the Perth Mint to be paid as a second “royalties” into the Central Land Council special accounting that probably has no audit, accounting being a confidential agreement.
    I have seen the CLC with North Flinders Granites Agreement signed by Geffrey Stewart and Trevor Ireland.
    Just a few million in health and Education with good teachers would CAUSE reconciliation.
    No wonder the Warlpiri and others are lost and hurting and on the grog.

  12. In his wisdom the former Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, gave control of ABA monies to the land councils when once the ABA was independent of Land Councils.
    Of course applying for funding through the former ABA outside land councils certain criteria still needed to be met by applicants.
    Now under land councils successful applications are based on whether applicants are favoured by land councils if not you get zilch.
    If land councils were doing the right thing there would hardly be the soaring crime rate.
    Royalties have caused haves and have nots – those in poverty.
    Greed is everywhere. So much for caring and sharing. Governments are complicit in it all by allowing it to function the way it does.

  13. Never thought I would be defending the land councils but let’s be fair.
    The land councils represent the views of Aboriginal people.
    Their view when it comes to spending any money they (Aboriginal people) have any control over the slightest suggestion of control over is very very clear.
    Their money is absolutely not to be used for anything that is arguably a government responsibility.
    So not for housing, education, health etc etc, just about anything really.
    I have been in meetings where the money has been available to immediately address a poverty issue with money that is available right now and with no likelihood of government money for years, if ever.
    To a man and woman they spoke with one voice.
    No! The government should do that.
    The land councils are doing no more than representing this voice (and of course grabbing what they can for themselves).
    It is actually the Central Land Council that has to the extent it can taken on the traditional owners and directed money to the community.
    For example the training centre at Willowra.
    That was a battle, and the CLC won it, for the people of Willowra.

  14. Why do Aboriginal people get the so called royalty payments only and not ALL Australians?
    Is it any wonder why mainstream Australians see Aboriginal people living in communities as a drain on the economy?
    The average Australian toils so hard paying taxes and their mortgages only to see a tiny part of the Australian population receive payments based on race.
    It is discussed on the east coast and endorsed by Aboriginal people like Warren Mundine and Noel Pearson that it is high time Aboriginal people leave these communities if they cannot find work and contribute to Australia by working in the cities like all other Australians.
    If a recession happens there will not be the money around to drip feed their welfare lifestyle.
    Aboriginal people who choose the welfare lifestyle will never be accepted in the broader community and respect will never be forthcoming.
    Many Australians say: “Hey, Mr Aborigine, you work for me because I pay your welfare wages, get off your backside and get a job!”

  15. What is this program this and program that? How about getting a job and save the NT sinking ship economy?

  16. @ Jack: Jane Blunden is member of the Kurra Royalty Association so should know what she is talking about when she says there is minimal benefit for people on the ground.
    Jack, you sort of said that yourself. Having two bob each way defending CLC?
    CLC represents views of Aboriginal people but not all Aboriginal people, only those who hold power to help keep land council in power, a sort of quid pro quo.
    Everything that was originally set up was for the benefit of all Aboriginal people in the bush in what ever shape or form that could be (to help overcome poverty) but is hijacked to benefit the unconscionable powerful.
    And so, why Aboriginal people sell their own art to achieve things that these sorts of monies could help address.

  17. The government should pull their heads out of their [rears] and clean up the total mess which is the Northern Territory.

  18. Perhaps some of the royalty moneys could be used to supplement the Aboriginal funded organisations? This would be an investment into their own people and hopefully assist in better outcomes, provided the money and operational aspect were well managed.
    What is of interest is that the most of the royalty money comes from the white fella, why is this of interest? Read on.
    We all seem to agree that alcohol and drug issues are widespread in Alice Springs and Tennant Creek and there never seems to be enough money available for several reasons.
    I had a bit of a look into a few of the corporations declared financials and was somewhat enlightened.
    South of Tennant Creek, there are only two ORIC registered organisations that deal with Drug and Alcohol abuse issues: CAAAPU in Alice Springs and BRADAAG in Tennant Creek.
    I looked at the funding provided by the taxpayers and also looked at the various rule books, to see if any of these organisations who greatly received taxpayer funds, were in fact in receiving input also by the taxpayer, by way of membership to their various organisations.
    Disappointingly, it is only BRADAAG in Tennant Creek that welcomes white people as members, albeit the majority of members has to be Aboriginal.
    The other organisations listed below exclude white people. Is this not a racist?
    Furthermore, I find it a little offensive that these organisations will gladly take my white money, but not allow me to have input into their affairs, either by way of membership or being allowed on their board of directors. This is because I am white.
    To add further insult to injury, the two organisations that provide the alcohol and drug services, receive miniscule amounts of funding compared to the others listed, yet we all say how costly the effects of alcohol and drugs are. If we truly believe that, then we need to apportion the funds equitably and be proactively not reactively, so provide more funds to the CAAAPU’s and BRADAAG’s perhaps.
    Looking at the financials of Congress, what on earth does employee benefit expenses of $36,372,854 mean? It doesn’t say wages; and $2,261,649 for motor vehicle and travel expense but only $3,646,907 for medical supplies and program expenses!
    The Anyinginyi financials show very little detail indeed. For those who run financials in private businesses, have a look and you may also be amazed.
    All of the information below can be verified from the Oric website.
    The Rule book of Central Australian Aboriginal Congress Aboriginal Corporation (ICN: 7823).
    3. Members
    3.1 Who is eligible?
    A member must be an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person; at least eighteen (18) years old; and normally and permanently resident in Central Australia for a continuous period of two (2) years prior to applying for membership. Note: the phrase, ‘normally and permanently’ used to describe residence, means an arrangement whereby the person has his or her principal dwelling in a community or township located in Central Australia and is recorded as being a resident of a community or township located in Central Australia by his or her employer or provider of benefits.
    Congress received $49,493,973 from the taxpayer in 2018 of which $7,151,662 is Medicare and Practice Incentive Payments.
    The 2019 financials have not been lodged yet. Employee benefit expenses of $36,372,854. Total comprehensive income of only $415,000 … with a surplus at the end of 2018 of a mere $17,524,808.
    The Rule book of Barkly Region Alcohol and Drug Advisory Group Aboriginal Corporation (ICN 8618)
    3. Members
    3.1 Who is eligible?
    A member must be at least 18 years old; and a resident of the Barkly region.
    Note: The majority of members of the corporation must be Aboriginal.
    They received $2,727,514 in grants for the 2018 a reduction of $382,000 from the previous year. Their comprehensive income for the 2018 period was only $24,746.
    The Rule book of Anyinginyi Health Aboriginal Corporation (ICN 283).
    3. Members
    3.1 Who is eligible?
    A member must be at least 18 years old; and be a person of Aboriginal descent; and have lived in the region for a continuous period of two years prior to application; and be of good character, integrity and won’t bring the corporation into disrepute; not be an individual convicted of an offence within two years of the date of applying for membership against the Commonwealth, State or Territory law and sentenced, including a suspended sentence to imprisonment for three months or longer involving fraud or misappropriation of funds or child abuse and/or neglect or family violence [or] any other offence resulting in a sentence or suspended sentence for one year or longer.
    Interestingly they received $13,979,617 from the taxpayer in 2019. Total revenue was $16,809,508 and expenses were $14,690,292.
    The Rule Book of The Central Australian Aboriginal Alcohol Programmes Unit Aboriginal Corporation (ICN: 1473)
    3. Members
    3.1 Who is eligible?
    A member must be at least 18 years old; and an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person; and resident within the Central Australia region in which the corporation operates; and willing to maintain responsible alcohol use habits and to abstain from substance abuse. The Corporation will have no joint members.
    They received a mere $2,709,210 in 2018 from the taxpayer. The comprehensive income was only $124,000.
    So, what’s it all really about fellow taxpayers? Most of the Aboriginal corporations refuse to allow white people as members, but happily accept white money. Doesn’t seem fair to me.

  19. Royalties and Aboriginal people, that is the real people who own this land, not all us want to move from our homeland.
    Do we benefit? I don’t think so.
    The mining companies give us peanuts or should I say shit CLC don’t listen when Aboriginal people get our voice across.
    Ripping a big hole into our land is not healthy for us Aboriginal people.
    Terrible, I say, but not all is lost.

  20. Hey you guys out there, who are delegates of the Central Land Council, please tell me and the people of the Warlpiri tribe, who are the these so-called Warlpiri people in the Western Australian communities of Balgo Mission and Gordon Downs waiting for the Australian Government to give the green light to begin our royalties meetings?
    The CLC is listening to these so-called Warlpiri TOs who don’t even have any histories of ever having been born in the Tanami Desert or being circumcised?
    You mob should hear the these so-called Warlpiri TOs speaking only in English not even in Warlpiri language. Bloody ridiculous, if you ask me.


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