FMG reviews Native Title ruling in Pilbara

The Yindjibarndi claim area.

Lawyers for billionaire Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue Metals Group were this week reviewing a Federal Court judgement that found the Yindjibarndi people in Western Australia’s Pilbara were entitled to exclusive Native Title rights over land on which the company’s Solomon iron ore mine sits.

At the same time a senior Yindjibarndi lawman has vowed to launch a compensation claim against the mining giant.

“Last week’s Federal Court decision is complex; the decision has application beyond Fortescue’s operations and appears to contradict earlier Yindjibarndi rulings,” Fortescue chief executive officer Nev Power said.

“For these reasons, our lawyers are reviewing the judgment and considering all options.

“We accept that the Yindjibarndi People hold Native Title rights in the claimed area. All of Fortescue’s Solomon mining rights remain valid.

“We expect that State and Commonwealth governments will also carefully consider this judgment given its wide-ranging implications and the potential affect this may have on attracting new investment in resources, agriculture and tourism.”

The Federal Court ruling last Thursday came on the back of one of Australia’s longest-running Native Title cases.

Justice Steven Rares found in favour of Roebourne-based Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation, which has been going head-to-head with Fortescue over royalties and land access for a decade.

After the judgement was handed down, senior Yindjibarndi lawman Michael Woodley said the corporation would launch a compensation claim against FMG.

“We believe strongly they are liable for what they’ve been doing for the last eight years on our country, mining without our … prior and informed consent,” he told the ABC.

In his judgement, Justice Rares found that the Yindjibarndi were entitled to exclusive Native Title rights over all unallocated Crown land in the claimed area and the Yandeeyara Reserve. The exception was a small area occupied by Rio Tinto’s Tom Price railway.

FMG’s Solomon Hub mine is located within the Native Title area near a sacred site and fresh water spring that the Yindjibarndi call ‘Bangkangarra’. FMG calls it ‘Satellite Spring’.

Justice Rares said he was satisfied that “the Yindjibarndi established … that a manjangu (or stranger) still has to obtain permission from a Yindjibarndi elder before entering or carrying out activity on Yindjibarndi country”.

In the past Fortescue unsuccessfully offered the YAC $4 million a year for land access. The company ultimately proceeded with the mine without signing a land use deal with the corporation.

In a complicated history, a rival break-away group, the Wirlu-Murra Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation, was funded by FMG.

By Wendy Caccetta

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