Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) has lost their High Court appeal against the Yindjibarndi people of the Western Australian Pilbara region.
FMG was contesting Yindjibarndi Traditional Owners’ exclusive possession Native Title rights over approximately 2,700 kilometres of land in the Pilbara, including land on which FMG’s Solomon Hub sits.
The profitable iron ore hub currently generates billions in revenue annually for the mining company.
The exclusive possession was determined in 2017, meaning Yindjibarndi Native Title holders are able to regulate land use and access across their Native Title area.
After their appeal was thrown out by the full bench of the Full Federal Court in October 2019, FMG said they would consider taking the appeal to the High Court of Australia.
Represented by renowned silk, Bret Walker SC, FMG was arguing for special leave to have the case heard in the High Court.
Streaming to Perth and Sydney court rooms from Brisbane, the High Court rejected the application on Friday.
The mining giant is now liable to a hefty compensation claim that could reach millions in payout dollars to Yindjibarndi Traditional Owners for economic and spiritual loss.
Upon hearing the decision, Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation (YAC) released a short statement via Facebook.
“The Yindjibarndi people have always stated they prefer that their traditional lands be left alone, and to stay as it always has since Ngurra Nyjunggamu (when the world was soft),” the statement read.
“This was the legacy left by the old people and the way it was always supposed to be. The current populations of Yindjibarndi people have always wanted the opportunity to manage that land in the same way.
“However, that has not been possible … The Yindjibarndi people would much prefer to be living on country in peace rather than fighting to protect it through the courts.”
WA Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Ben Wyatt, released a statement congratulating the Traditional Owners soon after the decision was made public.
“Today’s High Court decision marks the end of a successful 17-year struggle by the Yindjibarndi people in the Pilbara to have their Native Title rights conclusively recognised,” Minister Wyatt said.
“I hope the divisions created through this process can now begin to heal, and all parties can embrace a new era of co-operation and consultation which respects the rights of the native title holders.”
FMG is reportedly “disappointed” with the outcome according to a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange.
By Hannah Cross