Responses to Marcia Langton's Boyer Lectures

Prof. Marcia Langton's 2012 Boyer Lectures are posted at:

Prof. Langton used to sit on the Australian Uranium Association's so-called 'Indigenous Dialogue Group'. Other mining companies support her work as discussed below.

Indigenous communities, conservation and the resource boom

Nick McClean and Dawn Wells

Chain Reaction #117, April 2013

In the recent Boyer Lectures, Prof. Marcia Langton argued that mining is providing Indigenous communities with an opportunity to move out of the economic margins and grow into a new middle class of wealth and opportunity. But is mining the only way forward for Indigenous communities seeking to develop economically sustainable futures? And are supporters of conservation committing an act of racism, as she suggests?

We can begin by looking to Prof. Langton's own publications. In an article published in the Journal of Political Ecology in 2005, Prof. Langton and her colleagues brought together research from across Australia, the Middle-East, Indonesia and the United Nation's chief conservation agency, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Assessing the benefits and pitfalls of developing community-based conservation programs in partnership with Indigenous peoples, the conclusions were clear − Australia is currently one of the few countries where Indigenous led conservation programs are proving successful.

To quote: "Australia has in relation to certain key national parks, taken a lead role in the development of joint management agreements with Indigenous groups" (p.35) and "we also argue, in contrast to many critiques of community-based conservation elsewhere, that community-oriented protected areas are delivering significant benefits to Indigenous peoples in Australia" (p.24).

Based on a number of detailed examples, Prof. Langton and her colleagues argued that Australia's Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) program in particular provides significant potential for Indigenous communities to develop livelihoods that are economically sustainable and culturally relevant. It's hard to argue with her either, when we consider that IPAs now make up 25% of the National Reserve System, and include the country's largest single conservation reserve, the massive Southern Tanami Indigenous Protected Area. This alone indicates that conservation is no longer solely the domain of city-based environmentalists, but is an increasingly important component of the Indigenous estate, and of Indigenous economic life.

Moreover, the IPA program is only one example of conservation done in partnership with Indigenous communities, with all states and territories except Tasmania and the ACT instituting legislation for the joint management of national parks. It is through these arrangements that Aboriginal ranger groups are being set up across the country, providing meaningful, ongoing employment for young Aboriginal men and women, and a forum within which elders can guide the management of their country according to cultural knowledge and community priorities.

While these schemes are in many cases still developing, Prof. Langton's argument in favour of IPAs revolves around the fact that Indigenous land owners can maintain ownership and full control over their country and the programs developed to manage it. The secure tenure that underpins the IPA program is one of its biggest strengths, with communities nominating land they own outright as conservation reserves. Her point about the environment movement historically disregarding Indigenous interests is undeniable, but according to Prof. Langton's research, emerging forms of conservation are neither racist nor economically useless.

It can be argued that these programs exist in no small part due Indigenous advocates such as Prof. Langton and Noel Pearson mounting a public critique of the wilderness concept and mainstream environmentalism almost 20 years ago, a critique she foregrounds in the Boyer Lectures. Joint management schemes and the IPA program, as well as the many Indigenous engagement programs run by influential environmental NGOs today, exist not because of epiphanies among politicians and activists, but because of the well made arguments of Aboriginal people, acting as major rural landholders who in many cases seek out conservation as a viable option for managing their futures.

What is surprising about the Boyer Lectures is the lack of acknowledgement that these developments also represent a significant, if incomplete, process of cultural change among Australian conservationists, in direct response to Indigenous criticism and innovation. After all these programs, like Indigenous mining ventures, require collaboration and mutual endeavor to succeed.

What about mining itself? Is it the golden egg Prof. Langton would have us believe? A 2011 survey by the Australia Institute suggests a wide divergence between the mining industry's perceived and real economic benefits. Those surveyed thought the mining industry employed nine times more workers than it does; accounted for three times as much economic activity than it does; and was 30% more Australian-owned than it is. These findings represent an emerging field of research which is bringing the mining industry's self-styled image as the backbone of the Australian economy and sole provider of Aboriginal economic development under increasing scrutiny.

In regards to mining on Aboriginal land, there are two primary concerns. Firstly, are the economic benefits as good as they sound? And secondly, what power do Aboriginal communities have in the agreement-making process?

Prof. Langton's 2010 Griffith Review article 'The Resource Curse' raises many of these issues. She asks, "are there any policies to counter the growing disparities in income and living conditions and opportunities in the mining provinces?". She goes on to argue, "until this is resolved and other inequities addressed, there is a ticking time bomb in the remote economic heart of the nation"

Referring to the localised inflation which occurs in mining towns, Prof. Langton highlights where it hits remote Aboriginal communities hard – housing, goods and services. She refers to rental increases in which caravan parking births cost up to $1000 per week. This high inflation has a flow-on effect on the services sector, as businesses are not able to provide housing for staff, and the community is deprived of basic services. Meanwhile, state and federal governments pull back on spending in these communities, and have a bad track record of providing sufficient public housing. The hardest hit are the people who are not directly employed by the mining industry. Not earning the higher wages provided by this industry, they are paying the same inflated rents, food and services costs. This is especially significant when we consider that the mining industry is one of the least labour intensive industries in the country. Finally, Prof. Langton draws attention to the fact that these towns become wholly reliant upon foreign-owned multinational corporations, which can decide at any moment to close mining operations if they are not profitable.

While Prof. Langton has convincingly argued for many years that Aboriginal communities are not receiving their fair share of mining revenues, in the Boyer Lectures her proposed solutions to this economic vulnerability are largely to maintain the power of the mining industry. While she discusses Indigenous disadvantage across the lectures, she doesn't discuss in detail the limited power Aboriginal communities frequently have in forming agreements with mining companies. It is common knowledge that Native Title, for example, provides for an uneven negotiating ground between resource companies and traditional owners, as it does not confer outright land ownership to traditional owners. Moreover many Aboriginal communities simply do not have any rights to land at all. This situation is the same as Prof. Langton herself found when looking at Aboriginal involvement in conservation. Those communities with more secure forms of tenure are able to negotiate good economic outcomes more often, while those without it are dependent on the ethics of those they do business with in order to safeguard their economic security.

Prof. Langton argues for Aboriginal communities' right to pursue mining projects, yet questions remain regarding their economic, social and environmental sustainability. In many cases mining companies remain as capable of disregarding Indigenous interests as conservationists, yet communities will no doubt continue to choose mining as a basis for their economic future. Nevertheless in many cases there appears to be no guarantee that it will provide an even or fair distribution of wealth, and in choosing mining many communities may well choose against conservation options with the potential to provide economic security over the long term. This is some of what we can glean from Marcia Langton's research.

Nick McClean works as a heritage consultant with Aboriginal ranger groups in NSW and is completing a PhD at the Australian National University. [email protected]. Dawn Wells is commencing a PhD at Rutgers University, New Jersey. [email protected]

Australian Nuclear Free Alliance response to Prof. Marcia Langton's Boyer Lectures

We write as co-chairs of the Australian Nuclear Free Alliance (ANFA) in response to recent comments by Professor Marcia Langton in her Boyer Lecture series "Indigenous People and the Resources Boom". ANFA brings together Aboriginal people, environment, health groups and trade union representatives to discuss the impacts of the nuclear industry on land and communities. ANFA opposes uranium mining, exploration and the dumping of radioactive waste on Aboriginal land.

Uranium mining, exploration and the dumping of radioactive waste on Aboriginal land is detrimental to the health of Aboriginal people, Aboriginal lands and our collective environments. Mining generally is an extractive industry that by its very nature destroys land often at the expense of spiritual and cultural connections of Aboriginal people. Income generated from mining comes at a cost and often ignores the possibility of creating alternative sustainable economic opportunities that need not rely on extraction as its primary economic base.

As Aboriginal community based leaders we take issue with Professor Langton's suggestion that embracing mining is a positive option for Aboriginal people if they are to engage with the modern economy. In her lectures Professor Langton paints a rosy picture of the services and employment which some mining companies offer Aboriginal people as part of Native Title 'agreements'. There is only passing reference to the fact that Native Title does not allow Aboriginal people to say no to mining. Professor Langton suggests that "translating the recognition of their Native Title rights into tangible economic and social benefits" by supporting mining on country will lead to positive outcomes for Aboriginal communities. This is clearly not the case as can be attested by the many communities divided over the comparatively meagre spoils offered through such agreements and the the intergenerational legacy of extractive industries on our lands, people and culture.

Mining is not a panacea for addressing the social, cultural and economic disadvantage of Aboriginal people. Governments must be held to account to meet their responsibility to provide the roads, schools, housing, health services and other infrastructure that people in cities and towns take for granted.

It is important that Aboriginal people have the opportunity to participate in economic development on their country but this must never be at the expense of custodial responsibilities or community wishes. Mining is inherently short term but the problems it brings to country last well beyond the life of any mine.

Peter Watts (Arabana)
Mitch (Aranda/Luritja)
Kado Muir (Wongutha)

February 4, 2013

Green movement is here to help, not hinder, Aborigines

December 21, 2012

Leah Talbot and Dave Sweeney

The Age

A CONSISTENT theme running through Professor Marcia Langton's recent Boyer Lectures is the idea that the environment movement is standing in the way of indigenous empowerment and that conservationists are ''new colonisers under a green flag''. The accusation is way off the mark.

Long ago, the Australian Conservation Foundation recognised that the best way to protect the environment in this country was in partnership with those who have done this for thousands of years, the Aboriginal traditional owners.

We have a positive vision for northern Australia that aims to respect culture, protect the environment and put forward appropriate solutions to issues affecting indigenous communities. The policy of free, prior and informed consent from traditional owners underpins our work.

Knowing that language is an important tool that can empower or oppress, the ACF has communications protocols that dictate, for example, that when describing landscapes that have been occupied by indigenous people, ''the word 'wilderness' should not be used as it incorrectly denotes a place that is uncultivated and uninhabited and reinforces the fallacy of Terra nullius''.

Across the country, and particularly in the north, there is an increasing number of collaborations between indigenous Australians and conservationists.

Since 2004 the ACF has worked closely with traditional owners and the Queensland government to redress an injustice that Langton correctly identifies in her essays - that national parks legislation was used to deny Aboriginal ownership of land.

On Cape York Peninsula there has been a remarkable transformation in land ownership. Since 2004, the Queensland and Commonwealth governments have spent more than $30 million buying pastoral leases of high cultural and natural significance. Together with the existing national parks, these Aboriginal homelands are being returned to their traditional owners.

To right the wrongs of the past - particularly those of the Bjelke-Petersen government - the ACF has supported the return all national parks on Cape York to Aboriginal ownership and securing consent for any new national park from the traditional owners of that area.
Queensland's land tenure resolution process has returned more than 2 million hectares of land to Aboriginal ownership. About half is now Aboriginal-owned.

This shows what is possible when people of good faith from environment, government and indigenous communities and organisations come together with a vision for a ''culture and conservation economy''.

Langton's promotion of the resource industry as the primary way to empower indigenous communities is a dangerous and fraught path. The historical experience of the interface between the resource sector and our first peoples is one of profound and adverse impact.

White occupation of Australia was based on the legal fiction of Terra nullius, coupled with a utilitarian economic thinking that saw this ''empty land'' as fair game for any activity that could generate ''ownership'' and income. Then, as now, mining could do that. Times, people and expectations have changed, but there is still a massive structural imbalance weighted in favour of mining giants.

Langton's lack of rigour in assessing the heavy footprint of the mining sector is compounded by scant mention of the legal limitations of the native title regime, the often controversial and secretive nature of mining ''agreements'' and the fact that the cards are heavily stacked against Aboriginal people who are concerned about or would prefer to see no mining on their country.

The Mirarr people who lead a potent effort to stop uranium mining at Jabiluka on their traditional lands in Kakadu, are dismissed as ''dissident'' in Langton's analysis and the current conflict over Kimberley gas processing is avoided, as are continuing concerns over the Fortescue Metals Group's controversial approach to Aboriginal consultation.

And underpinning all is a more fundamental question: why should indigenous communities have to trade away their land for basic citizenship entitlements that other Australians take for granted?

What about the many, many indigenous communities that do not have mineral riches underneath their country or who cannot prove to the satisfaction of a non-Aboriginal court that they have a connection to that country? Is that just their bad luck?

None of these issues is easy, straightforward or one-dimensional. Langton hits on one of the pertinent challenges facing Australia today - how can we have a mining boom alongside deeply entrenched indigenous disadvantage and how can we ensure healthy country and communities for future generations?

We share her concerns about the social and economic issues faced by indigenous communities. We accept the need to tackle the profound and shameful legacy of hundreds of years of dispossession, denial and despair but we do not accept that the best way to close the gap is by digging a deeper hole.

We believe Australia can and must forge a future that embraces indigenous cultural and ecological knowledge and heritage and takes a different approach to managing our precious country for all generations to come - and we believe this is a journey that must be taken together.

Leah Talbot, who has a masters in environmental science, is a Kuku Yalanji woman from the Bloomfield River area, and works for the ACF. Dave Sweeney works on nuclear, resource and Indigenous issues with the ACF's north Australia program.

Marcia Langton defends non-disclosure on mining cash before Boyers

Andrew Crook

Crikey senior journalist


Indigenous leader Marcia Langton and the ABC have defended a lack of disclosure over last year's Boyer Lectures, despite tens of thousands of dollars in cash for Langton's academic research being sourced from resources giants Rio Tinto, Woodside and Santos.

The series of five Boyers, titled "The Quiet Revolution: Indigenous People and the Resources Boom", were delivered late last year by Langton at the ABC's Brisbane studios and beamed around the country on Radio National.

They argued the boom had substantively benefited indigenous communities, with Langton lauding the work of a number of corporate behemoths -- notably Rio -- in providing job opportunities and friendly chop-outs. One lecture featured a full frontal attack on the "conceit" of anti-mining greenies.

But what listeners weren't aware of was that two of the companies Langton praised were also bankrolling her.

The Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, where Langton serves as chairperson of the Australian Indigenous Studies, shows in its 2010 annual report that $480,000 in funding had been secured over four years for Langton's joint Australian Research Council project "Poverty in the Midst of Plenty: Economic Empowerment, Wealth Creation and Industrial Reform for Sustainable Indigenous and Local Communities". The cash was provided by the federal government, corporate partners Woodside, Rio and Santos, and the Marnda Mia Central Negotiating Committee, a company that represents traditional owners in deals with Rio management.

According to a project outline, the study aimed to "promote economic empowerment for sustainable indigenous and local communities" by, among other things, removing the barriers to indigenous participation in large-scale resources projects. While a funding breakdown is not provided, Woodside confirmed it had provided $30,000 over three years. The project ran from 2009 until 2012.

Crikey asked Langton, the University of Melbourne and the ABC to explain the lack of disclosure. The university referred all queries to Langton. In an emailed statement, Langton told Crikey she had delivered the Boyers in a "private capacity":

"I and the other members of the research team have complied with the university's and ARC requirements for publications. The Boyer Lectures, however, are not subject to the university statutes."

She says full details of the grant are available on an indigenous website,

University of Melbourne researchers are required, under an official code of conduct, to ensure all:

"... publications must include information on the sources of financial support for the research and must include a disclosure of any potential conflicts of interest."

The ABC's Editorial Policies require the national broadcaster to:

"... ensure appropriate disclosure of any external funding arrangement ... where the arrangement or acceptance, if it were not disclosed but later became public, may reasonably be perceived to distort the editorial content or otherwise undermine the ABC’s independence or integrity."

In its statement, the ABC said that "in previewing the lectures, the ABC referred to Professor Langton's position as chair of indigenous studies at the University of Melbourne":

"The university has its own rules on funding disclosure. The treatment of Professor Langton was no different to that applied to other respected Boyer lecturers, including ... Rupert Murdoch, General Peter Cosgrove, former prime minister Bob Hawke and author Geraldine Brooks."

The Boyers continue to feature prominently in audio and transcript form on the ABC website and were also republished last year -- without disclosure -- as opinion pieces in the Fairfax press.

In her first lecture called "Changing the paradigm: Mining Companies, Native Title and Aboriginal Australians", Langton fondly recalled her experience dealing with a sympathetic manager at a Rio-owned Argyle Diamond Mine in Western Australia in the early 2000s. She said the manager:

"... became a champion for the Aboriginal people of the east Kimberley. He revolutionised the culture of the Argyle Diamond Mine by opening the doors to Aboriginal people. Today, the rate of Aboriginal employment at that mine stands at 25% of the total workforce."

Despite the industry's historical intransigence, Langton said Rio and Woodside had recently done stellar work in the outback, offering indigenous entrepreneurs "unprecedented opportunities to tender for contracts":

"In the last decade, mining companies and ancillary services have employed Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders in larger numbers than ever before in Australian history. Some mining companies, for example Rio Tinto Ltd, Fortescue Metals Group and BHP Billiton, have developed recruitment and other labour force strategies in the last few years that have contributed to creating the largest Australian Indigenous industrial workforce ever ...

"Mid last year, in the Pilbara alone, Rio Tinto Iron Ore had over 1000 indigenous employees and Fortescue more than 300. As proportions of the total workforce in both these companies, about 8% of the employees are indigenous. Nationally, Rio Tinto had about 1500 indigenous employees and is the largest private sector employer of indigenous people ...

"Rio Tinto Iron Ore has provided literacy and numeracy programs, family and community support programs and mentoring of indigenous employees. These have all been critical to increasing indigenous employment."

In her third Boyer, titled "Old barriers and new models: The private sector, government and the economic empowerment of Aboriginal Australians", Langton explains how former Rio chairman Leon Davis "made a headland speech that shifted the industry’s paradigm" to break with the approach of Western Mining's Hugh Morgan:

"Davis' acceptance of native title and tilt towards respect for traditional owners enraged Morgan and other industry leaders but led to the sophistication in agreement making that we witness today."

Rio's landmark 2011 Gove Mining Agreement with the Yolngu people provided "outstanding long-term financial terms and opportunities to tap in to the regional economy created by the mine", Langton said.

A fourth lecture, "The conceit of wilderness ideology", took aim at leading environmentalist and climate change commissioner Tim Flannery. Langton wondered aloud whether Flannery was "racist" because he had argued in Quarterly Essay that a Bligh government decision to hand back a part of a national park to its traditional owners for mining may have trumped the interests of nature:

"For 40 years this racist assumption in the green movement about Aboriginal people being the enemies of the wilderness is a leitmotif of deals between conservation groups and state governments to deny Aboriginal people their rights as landowners and citizens of Australia."

Simon Longstaff from the St James Ethics Centre told Crikey that although Langton had long held views similar to those expressed in the Boyers, she -- and the ABC -- should have disclosed the funding because of the specific and ongoing nature of the tie-up.

"If you're going to mention specific organisations, either to endorse them or to criticise them, and if there's a financial relationship of support, then it's just a matter of prudence to advise those who might be broadcasting or publishing those views that that forms part of the background to your thinking," he said.

"If there's a direct and ongoing monetary relationship it's a wise thing to disclose that so the public is aware."

Rio, which did not respond to requests for comment, is also involved in Langton-linked projects elsewhere at the University of Melbourne -- it is the foundation corporate partner of the Murrup Barak Melbourne Institute for Indigenous Development, at which Langton is a graduate course co-ordinator.

An interview for a 2011 Monthly feature on Langton penned by Peter Robb was conducted at Rio Tinto's Australian head office in Collins Street.

Langton failed to disclose mining company funding

March 2, 2013

Gina McColl

LEADING environmentalists have criticised the ABC and Professor Marcia Langton after revelations her recent ABC Boyer Lectures, in which she praised the mining industry's role in the emergence of an Aboriginal middle class and delivered a broadside against the green movement, drew on research partially funded by big mining companies.

Santos contributed $45,000, Woodside $30,000, and the federal government's Indigenous Affairs Department $300,000 to a four-year research project led by Professor Langton into economic empowerment in indigenous communities.

Rio Tinto contributed an undisclosed sum to the $480,000 project, while Marnda Mia, a company that represents local indigenous communities in deals with Rio, offered non-cash support.

Scientist and former Australian of the year Tim Flannery, whom Professor Langton accused in one lecture of racism, said the lectures ''take on a different light'' since the big resource companies' contribution was highlighted by website Crikey.

Professor Flannery said the views expressed were consistent with those of the mining industry in their criticism of environmentalists and advocacy of indigenous development and mining expansion going hand in hand.

''This goes to the heart of the credibility of the Boyer Lecture series,'' he said. ''There should be requirements for disclosure of this sort of thing and they should be abided by.''

While detailed on the University of Melbourne website, where Professor Langton is foundation chair of Australian indigenous studies, the industry funding was not disclosed to listeners when the lectures were delivered in the ABC's Brisbane studios late last year, broadcast on Radio National or extracted in Fairfax Media.

Disclosures have since been added to ABC and Fairfax sites, and will be included in a book of the series, due to be released by ABC Publishing in March.

The Boyer lecturer is selected each year by the ABC board, rather than an editor, but policies that the broadcaster must ''ensure'' independence and disclosure of any conflicts still apply. An ABC spokesman declined to answer questions about what steps were taken to conform with this policy, and whether its practices were being reviewed as a consequence of the controversy.

''The ABC constantly reviews its policies and procedures to ensure best practice,'' the spokesman said.

Professor Langton, who did not respond to Fairfax requests for comment, defended herself on Twitter last week. ''Double standards and disinformation from Crikey. Boyers are not my university research but my private opinions.''

Associate Professor Peter Christoff, an expert in environmental politics at Melbourne University and former vice-president of the Australian Conservation Foundation, said he didn't think his colleague's research would have been influenced by her funding sources, but the lack of disclosure was still damaging. ''Perception is fundamental,'' he said.

''She's undermined her case because there's an apparent conflict of interest there.''

However, an academic with experience researching the Western Australian mining regions said the commercialisation of research did raise questions about independence.

Dr Sarah Holcombe, at the Australian National University, said access to staff and mine sites are controlled by the companies, and that accommodation outside of their mining camps is often non-existent. ''Without their support, this sort of research could not happen.''

Marcia Langton sparks academic spat over charges of 'racism'

Andrew Crooks

Crikey, Feb 27, 2013

Marcia Langton has been accused of ditching serious debate for name-calling. Crikey finds there is much criticism of her approach among academic peers.

Indigenous academic Marcia Langton has again accused a prominent rival of "racism", using an internal university mailing list to sledge a critic of her controversial ABC Boyer Lectures.

Transcripts of an Australian Anthropological Society debate — obtained by Crikey  — reveal a heated exchange between Langton and her academic peers over an article by Professor Boris Frankel published in the latest Arena Magazine, "Opportunity Lost". It is Langton's third public accusation of racism in the last three months, a serious charge in the modern academy.

In Arena, Frankel, an honorary fellow at the University of Melbourne, wrote of his disappointment over Langton's "simplistic narrative of goodies and baddies based on an equally simplistic political geography", noting Langton's characterisation of the Left as new racists who wanted to keep keep Indigenous people uneducated and living in poverty. He argued the ABC, by failing to broadcast a Boyer rebuttal, had failed to adhere to the "balance" obligations of its charter.

But Langton's riposte published last week on the AASnet mailing list says Frankel's critique could not be taken seriously because he is "racist":

"History will judge Frankel's attack on me as dubious, questionable critique with no evidence to support his outrageous claims … like some of you, Frankel believes that it is legitimate to say anything at all, even with no evidence, about me. The racism is obvious and, as I said, I will respond fully in due course."

In her fourth Boyer broadcast on ABC Radio National in December, Langton accused climate change commissioner and prominent environmentalist Tim Flannery of harbouring "racist" thoughts because he suggested indigenous communities weren't capable of protecting nature.

And earlier this week she assailed two prominent critics — journalism academic and New Matilda contributing editor Wendy Bacon and former ABC investigative journalist Wendy Carlisle — of failing to grasp the "invisibility of racism" because they had not "hounded" other Boyer lecturers over conflicts of interest. The bitter exchange occurred after Crikey drew attention to the fact both Langton and the ABC had failed to disclose tens of thousands of dollars in research cash provided by resources giants, including Rio Tinto and Woodside, that she later singled out as indigenous employment champions.

Professor Jon Altman, the ARC Australian Professorial Fellow at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at the Australian National University, told AASnet name-calling was being employed as a means of silencing dissent.

"While I do not agree with everything in Boris' essay … my view is that it constitutes robust critical review. I also followed with interest the AASNet debate on the first Boyer lecture and spotted nothing 'racist' there. These views constitute disagreement, not racism! … Such labelling should not be condoned, even with polite silence, in an 'open society'."

Former University of Sydney anthropology lecturer Thiago Oppermann was also having none of it: "It's characteristic that ML's [Langton's] defenders should cry about her being mauled in the press, when what we have here is a single negative review in a tiny publication [Arena], whilst she just gave the Boyer lectures, supposedly a thing of prestige and wide reach…

"And of course, having a single argument raised against one's views in the marginal press is Stalinist censorship. We are allowed to have 'diversity' in anthropology so long as nobody ever steps on anyone's toes, it seems. Let 100 flowers bloom, all of them pulled by a mysterious heliotropism towards our glorious mineral-driven future …"

Professor Andrew Lattas of the Department of Social Anthropology at Norway's University of Bergen said the frenzied reaction was "just the usual nonsense that I have come to expect along with the personal accusation of Stalinism by email when you challenge arguments".

He defended the questioning over conflicts and disclosure: "There is nothing scurrilous in the criticism of Marcia Langton and noting her alignment with the mining lobby, they are long overdue. Asking for disclosure of how her research is funded by mining companies is certainly proper.

"It is not surprising that the criticisms are coming from outside of anthropology whilst the defence is coming from the usual crowd in Australian Aboriginal anthropology. Embarrassed by having strongly defended her and now not able or willing to respond to the substantial criticisms of her in any direct way, they resort to mourning the loss of meaning and objectivity in a post-modern world of mass communication. They generalise the problem, making the medium the problem — well this is not going to work, it is just fudging."

Langton received some cautious support from Professor Diane Austin-Broos from the University of Sydney, who says while Frankel might not be guilty of racism he failed to produce sufficient evidence.

"Rather than 'racist', Frankel's contribution exhibits a new type of comment in scholarly journals that I call 'death by opinion piece'," she told colleagues. "The so-called review is not grounded in citations from the relevant criticised text and relies on general political assumptions to bolster its argument. Moreover, the empirical stuff that grounds a real exchange of views is most often missing."

But Dr Stephen Johnson, a South Australian-based On Country planning consultant, formerly of the University of Queensland's Heritage Unit, said it was Langton who resorted to kneejerk accusations whenever she cops criticism.

"As just about anyone who has worked with or in close proximity to the professor will attest — and even those who have simply followed various debates from afar — Marcia Langton appears free to deploy at will the argumentative and rhetorical device taught and learned in a Western philosophical/academic tradition, but when challenged in kind will invariably resort to accusations of racism, often couched in terms of 'what would a whitefella know?'"

Late last year Langton sarcastically referred to herself as a "nig nog" in response to a tweet from prominent industrial relations barrister Josh Bornstein, who said he was sick of her abuse and invective.

Meanwhile, the full extent of the mining industry's financial support for Langton's research — undisclosed in her Boyer Lectures — is becoming clearer. Rio Tinto has contributed two major cash tranches in last six years to the Agreements, Treaties and Negotiated Settlements Project at which Langton is a chief investigator.

Another funder of Langton's research is the Marnda Mia Central Negotiating Committee — a local company that negotiates with Rio on behalf of the indigenous community. As this 2007 press release shows, Marnda Mia was the recipient of $2 million in funding from Rio Tinto Iron Ore at its inception. A year later, Langton and co-researcher Ciaran O'Faircheallaigh allegedly produced an internal report for Rio and ran seminars for the indigenous community in the Pilbara with whom Rio Tinto was negotiating (Crikey asked O'Faircheallaigh, Langton and Rio for clarification on this and other matters — Rio declined, O'Faircheallaigh and Langton didn't respond).

Another mining behemoth plugged by Langton in her Boyer lectures was Twiggy Forrest's Fortescue Metals, which Langton lauded for helping to create "the largest Australian indigenous industrial workforce ever". But most listeners would have been unaware of Langton's position on the steering committee for the Australian Employment Covenant, founded and co-funded by Forrest. There was also no mention in the Boyers of Fortescue's pitched battle with the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation over negotiating rights for the Solomon Hub and the Firetail mine, which has since been resolved in Yindjibarndi's favour by the Federal Court.

Langton gets her fact wrong

Unpublished letter.

Marcia Langton cites only one specific example in her tirade against environmentalists ('Start of a long fight back', The Age, Nov 24). She complains about "environmentalists and "wilderness" campaigners ... attaching themselves to dissident Aboriginal groups at Jabiluka in western Arnhem Land." In fact, Mirarr Traditional Owners were (and are) unanimously opposed to mining at Jabiluka; there is no dissident group.

Langton ignores countless real-world examples which disprove her thesis about white-knight mining companies rescuing Aboriginal people from poverty and from self-interested greenies. One such example concerns BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam mine in SA. BHP Billiton refuses to relinquish indefensible exemptions from the SA Aboriginal Heritage Act. Those exemptions were extended last year, with an SA government representative saying that BHP "insisted" on retaining the exemptions and that "the government did not consult further than that."

Both Langton and BHP Billiton are heavy on rhetoric and light on delivery.

Jim Green
Friends of the Earth