During recent years, Aboriginal communities in Australia have become increasingly involved in negotiating mineral development agreements with mining companies and relevant State agencies. Two factors influence the extent to which Indigenous interests can achieve benefits from such negotiations. The first is the bargaining power available to them associated, for example, with land ownership. The second, is the ability of Aboriginal communities to both mobilise such leverage and extend it. This paper draws heavily on the author's own experience in assisting Aboriginal communities in Cape York to prepare for and undertake negotiations, especially in relation to the Cape Flattery and Skardon River projects. Issues addressed include: the mechanisms for establishing common community goals; the means available to ensure access to vital information for commercial bargaining purposes; the need for adequate resources for equitable negotiations; the need for appropriate institutional structures; and the need for good working relations between technical staff and political decision-makers. At the end of the paper the key issue of the implementation of conditions in agreements is raised, especially if the significant potential benefits to communities, often foreshadowed, are to be realised.
The later sections of this paper draw on material which will be included in the author's contribution 'Negotiating with resource companies: issues and constraints for Aboriginal communities in Australia' in R. Howitt, J. Connell and P. Hirsch (eds) Resources, Nations and Indigenous Peoples, Oxford University Press.
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