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ABC RADIO AUSTRALIA Updated 4 September 2013, 10:38 AEST Landowners on the island of Banaba in Kiribati say they are still fighting for compensation from Australia, New Zealand and Britain for the m…

ABC RADIO AUSTRALIA Updated 4 September 2013, 10:38 AEST

Landowners on the island of Banaba in Kiribati say they are still fighting for compensation from Australia, New Zealand and Britain for the mining of phosphate.

More than 90 per cent of the surface of Banaba was mined between 1900 and 1980 to provide phosphate for the fertiliser industry.

What's left of the island - aggragate rock is being seen as a possible new export to help other Pacific islands build retaining walls to hold back rising sea levels.

Banaban author, Ken Sigrah says if aggregate mining goes ahead Banabans will ensure they're not "ripped off" as they were over the phosphate mining.

Presenter:Geraldine Coutts

Speaker:Ken Sigrah, Banaban landowner & author


SIGRA: After the money for the past 80 years, certainly the Commission is probably the most responsible for looking after the young and everything. We have our permanent fund for the island and by the end month, they're all under the (inaudible)  so we cannot tell what's happened to that fund also.
COUTTS: But you don't know how much you think you're owed?
SIGRA: No, at least we win the last court case. It was estimated somewhere around 240 million Sterling the damage that's been done to the home land and that is why we cannot be given that money at the time being the court case for the last court case we fought in England.
COUTTS: All right. So what are you doing about it today?
SIGRA: You know what, to us, it's like slapping heads against a brick wall, but we have a belief that one day we'll crack it, here we're talking about the life of people, people who've been neglected, their homeland has destroyed and that's the only thing we have under the sun, is our heritage, our home, its us and now, it's all taken away and we're never given anything for it, you know.
COUTTS: And was there ever an environmental clean up done for you?
SIGRA: No, not even a clean up, anything. All that dump and the rubbish that's left on the island, rotting away. All our people about 700 of them who are living on Banaban are actually still living in old asbestos buildings and they are still there now.
COUTTS: So there's been no crew to come in and help you deal with the asbestos, is there any evidence that is impacting on health there?
SIGRA: No, nobody have been even doing house inspectionsfor asbestos or anything. Nobody ever been back to the island for these kind of cases and our people that's living there innocently. We don't know what the effect will be or to the future generations.
COUTTS: Well, how welcoming will you be to have miners come in for the aggregate rock now?
SIGRA: At the moment, look, I think it is something that will have to be really, really aware of and be careful how we deal with it. Because we've been done for once and we're not going for that for a second time. At the end of the day, to all of us even in the past week, for Pacific people our home is our heritage, that's all. Money is nothing, but it is our home, it is our ancestral home as where our culture and customs belong and without our culture, without our heritage, and without our home, we are a nobody, so we are talking about human life here.
COUTTS: Well, what will you be trying to dictate to the signing of a contract to mine this aggregate rock?
SIGRA: Oh no, before we do us, we've been given what you call it agreements on the last mining on the phosphate and everything. Well, agreements, we live off the land, we place our soil and we plant it. That's never happened. We were promised given the companies after the mining. People who pay off people and give us a good land, they didn't give us that. They promise us homelaand in Fiji with buildings well done, water and everything. You don't get that. Our people, 40 of our old people died in Fiji land in 1945, because they're not used to water, drinking water and mosquitoes and all this. It's a very hard life for us.
COUTTS: Is there more than one company vying to get the contract to get old of the aggregates rock?
SIGRA: No. We haven't done any contract with any company yet. We are it is our plan for our people our landowners that the only way we can do a homeland now is to sell the aggregate, not just mining, but there's we had a rehabilitation project. So what we are looking now, we have a rehabilitation project. So money, there's no more money. It's going with whatever is taken off the land, the funds will come back to repair the homeland and that is our plan at the moment. But we haven't talked to any company. Even Kiribati send one of their teams to deal with us a few months back to talk to the people back home. But we are not into that yet. We are not opening anything until we are happy with what's coming.
COUTTS: All right. Do you know how much aggregate rock there is and how much money it might earn for you?
SIGRA: Well, I don't know what the aggregate will cost. It depends on the world pricing, but in the assessment of the total of rocks on the island, it's about 40 million tonnes of rock and that's plenty rocks. And with the global warming, and the atoll islands, I think they need these type of things if you want the islands to be protects from the high rising waters. We want the homeland too to be repaired so our people can live like the rest of the Pacific.

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