Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) has allegedly refused to pay almost $2 million in mining royalties to the Eastern Guruma people from WA’s Pilbara region.

Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation (WGAC), who represent the Eastern Guruma people, told the Federal Government inquiry into the Juukan Gorge destruction that $1.9 million in royalties have been purposely withheld.

The money was scheduled to be paid earlier this year, however, has been stalled until nine mining leases are signed off by WGAC.

WGAC requested more information from FMG regarding the leases, which were given to them over a year ago.

WGAC told the inquiry they will withhold consent until FMG deliver the requested information regarding the protection of culturally significant sites.

“In our experience, FMG comply with their agreement when it suits them. Our agreement is not working, and it is limited opportunity to change it,” said WGAC Director, Jocelyn Hicks.

WGAC has issued FMG six dispute notices in the “last year or two”, according to WGAC director Tony Bevan.

“FMG are currently doing what they like on Eastern Guruma Country and paying nothing for it,” he said.

In their written submission to the inquiry, WGAC outlined the impact of mining on Eastern Guruma Country.

“More than 93 [per cent] of Eastern Guruma Country is covered by mining tenements, and it is one of the most heavily explored and minerally prospective locations in Australia,” the submission said.

“Eastern Guruma is aware of major expansion plans that will see more and more Country irreparably destroyed, and with it sites of cultural importance and significance.”

Eastern Guruma Country currently hosts six Rio Tinto mines and one FMG mine—the Solomon mine.

Hicks told the inquiry an estimated 434 heritage sites have been destroyed due to mining, and a further 285 are within proximity to mining operations.

“Access to our traditional lands has diminished to the point that it is impossible to visit many of our important places and look after Country,” she said.

“We have to ask, sometimes implore, FMG and Rio [Tinto] not to destroy our sacred places.

“Sometimes they agree, sometimes they don’t.”

FMG Chief Executive, Elizabeth Gaines, addressed the royalty payments in a statement.

“We are committed to open and transparent engagement to facilitate the outstanding royalty payment, in accordance with the contractual agreement and the obligations of both parties,” she said.

“Our primary objective at all times is to work on a cultural heritage avoidance basis. Since the commencement of our operations, Fortescue has protected and avoided almost 6,000 heritage places.”

By Rachael Knowles