The pro-indigenous stand by Brendan Hammond, Argyle Diamond’s general manager of operations, was spurred on by a visit to an impoverished Aboriginal community near the world’s biggest diamond mine in 1998. He believes the proportion of the indigenous workforce needs to represent the local demographic – so the current 25% indigenous workforce is set to climb to 50% of the total 1500 workers.
Argyle Diamonds, wholly owned by mining giant Rio Tinto, has engaged in 3 years of tough negotiations with the Gija and Miriwoong peoples to reach the Participation Agreement which covers both employment opportunities and financial benefits.
Support for the agreement is equally enthusiastic on both sides and while the agreement is tied to the fortunes of the diamond business and exchange rates, estimates of the trust account to be established for traditional owners range from $50 million to $100 million payable at the end of the mine’s life in 2024.
It will create training positions, contracting opportunities, sacred site protection, traditional owner access and support for the transfer of the Argyle pastoral lease into native title when the mine is expected to cease operations in 2024.
The mine has received the go-ahead to switch from an open-cut operation to underground and a feasibility study is underway for this $800 million underground investment which could extend the mine’s life by 20 years.