MINING COMPANY PREFERS PR TO NEGOTIATION

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The Ashton Joint Venture (AJV), a large multinational diamond mining consortium, is betting on public relations to solve its problems with aboriginal groups. Rather than renegotiate a controversial land rights settlement, AJV plans to launch a media campaign which portrays the settlement as a "Good Neighbour Program." A lobbying drive aimed at State and local officials will also be included in the PR package. The company's objective, according to a story in The Age (20-6-81), is to separate their negotiations from the general debate on aboriginal land rights. They hope that, ultimately, the cost of PR and lobbying will be less than renegotiation, but so far the yearly PR budget is almost three times of the current settlement amount.

The Kimberly Land Counsel, which represents the aborigines, claims that the original settlement was made too hastily, without proper legal counsel, and that many traditional leaders were not consulted. The settlement reportedly provides a much lower rate of compensation than similar agreements made with other aboriginal groups. According to the Age, Michael Dillon, an advisor to one community group, felt that many of the old and illiterate people "didn't grasp the implications of what they were signing away." Further controversy centers around the possible destruction of sacred sites by the mining operation.

AJV's plans concerning the decision to hire the PR firm of Eric White Associates over International Public Relations Pty Ltd. became public when a memo by the firm's public relation's manager, Greg Walker, were leaked to the press. White Associates' recommendations were in accordance with AJV's policy on renegotiation, IPR, on the other hand, counseled AJV to settle with the aborigines. The National Times (21-6-81) quotes walker's memo, "IPR...believe that those dedicated to securing a larger share of mining revenues for Aboriginals will ultimately succeed and that our best policy is to position ourselves to conduct these negotiations."

Despite his failure to recommend IPR for the job, Walker praised them for their candor. The World Council of Churches, after reviewing Walker's memo, ordered an inquiry by their investigation team on the treatment of Australian Aborigines.

Despite AJV's efforts to direct publicity, their negotiations may eventually get a lot more bad press. The firm is also attempting to block the formation of a national diamond cutting industry, as prices are cheaper in other countries. AJV's moves will be scrutinized increasingly if the diamond find is as significant as claimed; it is said that the Kimberly mine could become the world's largest diamond mine.

Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

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