Benefit Sharing is No Solution to Development: Experiences from Mining on Aboriginal Land in Australia

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Abstract

This chapter looks at what happens in Australia when indigenous people who are landowners need to negotiate with multinational corporations engaged in mineral exploration and production on their lands. Focusing on a number of significant benefit-sharing agreements, the chapter explores some of the broad fundamental tensions that arise when the interests of indigenous minorities in commercially valuable resources are belatedly recognized in post-colonial circumstances.

The chapter begins with a brief background of the situation of indigenous people in Australia. A synoptic historical and statutory overview of the relationship between miners and indigenous people, as mediated by the state, follows. Next is an analysis of five important issues that have arisen in Australia: How do relatively powerless and marginalized groups gain leverage for commercial negotiations? On what basis are benefit-sharing agreements made? To whom should payments made under benefit-sharing agreements be distributed? How should payments made under benefit-sharing agreements be utilized? Who should be responsible for decision-making?

The chapter identifies a range of emerging issues of equity and effectiveness that have created problems in the Australian situation. Elements of these problems resonate with the circumstances of the San and their negotiations over the utilization of Hoodia, and these are discussed.

Ultimately, there are no easy solutions to the development problems faced by indigenous peoples. While scarce capital generated by benefit-sharing agreements should help to ameliorate these problems, it is important to acknowledge that any one agreement will only provide a partial solution. Managing expectations while sustainably implementing agreements is clearly an emerging challenge. This is especially the case over the life cycle of a long-term agreement. Recognizing the inevitable challenges posed in agreement implementation should, at the very least, ensure early investment in capacity-building that might allow adaptive and informed management of agreement implementation.