Markku and Wilhelmina Sarubin at Quondong Point

August 18, 2010


HON ROBIN CHAPPLE (Mining and Pastoral) [9.04 pm]: I rise tonight to talk about the collateral damage of a family. The family is Markku and Wilhelmina Sarubin and their two children. The collateral damage is occurring at James Price Point in the Kimberley. Their story started in May 1979 when Markku purchased a 50c miner’s right. On 17 June 1979, he applied for a mining tenement and by 29 February 1980, he had been granted a certificate of registration over the prospecting area—quarry area 04/50. They stayed there for the next 30 years, built two houses and raised their two children on one of the two dwellings on the lease. On 17 April 1989, the Sarubins wrote to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs seeking an excision of M04/81 from the proposed Lurujarri protected area. They included a letter from Paddy Roe supporting their request to retain the land and use it for horticultural purposes. The Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee, at a meeting on 8 June 1989, decided that M04/81 should not be excised, but the Sarubins should be permitted to retain the lease and continue utilising the area for horticultural purposes, provided that no mining took place on the lease. That was resolution 47/89.

In June 1989 they received a letter from the acting registrar of the Department of Aboriginal Sites advising that the committee had considered several options and had decided that the mining lease should be excised from the proposed protected area; however, it should be allowed to continue to be used for horticultural purposes only. The Aboriginal Affairs Department wrote to the Department of Mines advising that the department had no objection to the family retaining the lease provided that no mining activity took place. This created some sort of conflict because the Department of Mines was saying that the area must be mined, the Western Australian Museum was saying that the area must not be mined, and the Aboriginal Affairs Department was advising the family that they would be prosecuted if they started to mine. They continued to comply, albeit begrudgingly, with their mining lease requirements over the next number of years.

In June 1995, the National Native Title Tribunal wrote to the Sarubins confirming that M04/81 had been excluded from Goolarabooloo claim WC94/4. The letter went on to say that the traditional owners had expressly excluded them from their claim. On 18 February 2003, the Sarubins received a letter from the acting regional manager in the Kimberley office of the Department of Land Administration who advised them that the honourable minister had advised that she was preparing to surrender this portion of the pastoral lease to allow for the creation of a lease and an access easement from Manari Road for the purpose of developing a horticultural lease. The Sarubin family were advised that the department would seek comment from the Shire of Broome and other government agencies, but as the granting of the lease would be a future act under the Native Title Act 1993, it was likely to take more than 12 months.

Shortly after, surveyors arrived on the property, and the Sarubins were under the impression that this was for the purpose of reassigning the lease. In March 2003 a request was made to DOLA for M04/81 to be converted to a special lease for non-intrusive agriculture. DOLA confirmed that it was looking at it with a view to issuing a 10- year lease and discussed a 20-metre wide access easement one kilometre long across a portion of Waterbank to Manari Road. This was expressly not supported by the Broome shire. In April 2003, the Valuer-General’s office provided a valuation of $2 500 per annum for the lease area and $500 per annum for the access easement. The granting of a lease would be subject to completing actions under the future act provisions of the Native Title Act 1993. The Department of Industry and Resources warned that it might take more than 12 months before a formal lease could be concluded. Also in April 2003 the then Department for Planning and Infrastructure wrote to the Sarubins requesting payment of royalties. They did indeed pay all the royalties right the way through the years. A number of payments of $11 000 were made in some years, $13 000 in another year and $12 000 in another year. Markku in the meantime had gone overseas and had left Wilhelmina with the children to look after the block.

In May 2004 Tom Stephens, as then Minister for Local Government and Regional Development and member for the Mining and Pastoral Region, wrote to Wilhelmina saying that the then Minister for Planning and Infrastructure had committed to providing a lease to the Sarubins as a result of the surrender of Waterbank Station to unallocated crown land. The matter was referred to all stakeholders and the DPI again warned that it would not be in a position to issue a lease for at least another 12 months.

This goes on. Most probably the first indication that something was not as was being presented by the minister, Tom Stephens—or indeed Alannah MacTiernan, who was also involved in the process—was in February 2008 when their son Samudra Sarubin received a phone call from Bob Stevens of DOIR asking whether he would voluntarily surrender lease ML04/81. Mr Stevens said that the lease was never meant to be renewed and someone had made a mistake. Samudra mentioned that he had a letter from Alannah MacTiernan promising to assist in the development of the land for horticultural purposes. Alannah MacTiernan’s chief of staff, Rob Giles, reviewed his records and noted that he had not had a final answer from Alannah MacTiernan’s office in relation to the horticultural lease and sent a letter to follow-up the progress of the 2006 lease application.

Again there was an issue in 2008 when further correspondence from the Minister for Planning and Infrastructure indicated that Quondong Point was now a significant area of government interest and that no land tenure would be granted to the Sarubins. In 2008 there was a meeting of Wilhelmina Sarubin, Samudra Sarubin, Cempaka Maria Sarubin and Cecilia Smith from the office of the Minister for Planning and Infrastructure. Cecilia Smith said, “The government now needs the land for other purposes.” In other words, “Sorry we have buggered you around for the last 25 years, but we will try to set this right by offering you alternative land instead of the land you are on.”

This progressed on for a number of years and all the time the mining lease was reapplied for and granted. The matter actually came to a head in June 2010 when the Department of Mines and Petroleum sent the Sarubins a letter indicating the intention to forfeit the lease, giving the Sarubins three months to vacate their home, the place of birth of their children and all their assets, including a massive mango farm. That letter was received with another letter, which was the receipt of payment for the maintenance of their lease until July 2011.

There appears to have been a massive failure of government departments to communicate with each other, to deal with an issue and to live up to promises. Indeed now a family will lose all their assets as collateral damage because of the failure of departments in this and former governments.

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