MAC: Mines and Communities

Aboriginal community won't "give away control of our country for a song"

Published by MAC on 2011-07-25
Source: Business Spectator, statement

Meanwhile, Aboriginal business leader sings mining's praises

“Greens and others think they have Aboriginal people in their pocket, but that’s no longer true”.

So declares Warren Mundine, the Aboriginal chairman of the Australian Indigenous Chamber of Commerce, in a recent interview he gave to Robert Gottliebsen of the Business Spectator.

Mundine claims that Aboriginal Australians are now among the biggest proponents of uranium mining and already own around 5% of the mining industry across the country; and also provide up to 30% of contract labour to mining operations in Western Australia.

Aboriginal Australians need “around ten years to go” before achieving the type of success in negotiations over mining benefits evidenced in Canada.

Nonetheless, says Mundine, even older Aboriginal people are now thinking of holding direct negotiations with Chinese and Indian companies active in their country.

So, could Indigenous communities soon be earning billions of dollars and developing an industrial hub in Australia's "top end" which will spawn the growth of new medium-size cities?

That's clearly a key part of Mr Mundine's "vision", which sees increased mineral exploitation leading to a dramatic  reduction in endemic Aboriginal poverty.

And, although he acknowledges the challenges faced by his people in  “managing” such an accretion of wealth, this doesn't appear to rank very high among his concerns.

The thick of the Forrest

Coincidentally, just a week after Mundine shared his hopes with Mr Gottliebson, one of white Australia's richest mining magnates turned to the same theme.

Andrew Forrest, owner of Fortescue Metals, told the Four Corners television programme:

"We've seen what welfare in any shape or form, mining or corporate or government welfare does to communities". Instead, he said, what was needed was housing and increased Aboriginal employment around a mine.

Forrest was commenting on the "bitter dispute" which has arisen between his company and the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation (YAC) as  the corporation negotiates cash compensation and indigenous work guarantees in return for granting access to its iron-rich territory.

Declared YAC Chief Executive, Michael Woodley:

"We want to return to the negotiating table to strike a deal which will secure a bright future for the next generation of Yindjibarndi. But, we will not give away control of our country for a song".

Mr Mundine may have his own "native vision", but it's one that lacks much sense of current realities.

A large number of Aboriginal communities are engaged in conflict with mining companies whose financial power lies overwhelmingly outside their hands. 

The prospect of those miners willingly surrendering that power seems hopelessly naive.

[Comment by Nostromo Research, 23 July 2011].

Yindjibarndi call on WA Government to appoint mediator in dispute with FMG

Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation (YAC) Media Release

18 July 2011

Roebourne, WA - The Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation (YAC) is calling on the State Government to step in to help end the bitter dispute between the Yindjibarndi people and iron ore producer FMG over a proposed multi billion dollar mine in Western Australia's Pilbara region.

The parties have so far failed to reach what the YAC believes is a fair and equitable agreement for access to mine country south of Roebourne, which the Yindjibarndi call home.

YAC Chief Executive Michael Woodley says last night's ABC's Four Corners investigation
highlighted the broken relationship with FMG, and he wants the WA Government to step in by appointing an independent mediator.

"We want to return to the negotiating table to strike a deal which will secure a bright future for the next generation of Yindjibarndi. But, we will not give away control of our country for a song," he said.

"I believe the right way to end this dispute is for the State Government to help broker a fair commercial agreement with FMG, that acknowledges our standing as the people of this land, and that offers us real choice and participation," said Mr Woodley.

FMG's Solomon Hub project is estimated to be worth $280 billion. FMG has offered the
Yindjibarndi people a fixed-price $4 million a year cash payment and further money tied to an investment in indigenous employment over which the Yindjibarndi will have no control.

"We believe it is not fair or equitable. This is a tiny offer compared to industry standards," said Mr Woodley.

"FMG Chief, Andrew Forrest, claims uncapping payments could be seen as mining welfare, and he wants to free Aboriginal communities from a 'hand out' mentality. But, that suggests that we can't manage our own affairs."

"Mr Forrest fails to understand that Yindjibarndi want to grow their own communities and structures according to our own minds and aspirations, not the ambition and ideology of big mining companies, which have a clear commercial agenda," he said.

"True self-development happens when the will and spirit of a people are at the center; where respect, equal treatment, and a real chance to develop exists; not when a mining magnate bearing promises holds out his hand and tells you to eat out of it."

Uncertainty surrounds the Solomon Hub project with three mining leases still before the full
bench of the Federal Court.

"We want to secure a bright future for our young people, and have a responsibility to fight for what is right and just."

MEDIA CONTACT: Michael Woodley, CEO Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation
0419 097 13

For background & research materials please visit:

Native title reality dashes hopes, splits community

By Karen Michelmore

ABC News

18 July 2011

Calls for native title law reform have intensified after negotiations between a Western Australian Indigenous community and an Australian iron ore mining giant became mired in bitter dispute.

The Pilbara region's Yindjibarndi community has been in talks with Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) since 2007 over access to their country, which contains billions of tonnes of iron ore.

The ABC's Four Corners program has been given access to hours of footage of negotiation meetings.

FMG is offering a fixed annual package of $10.5 million, including $4 million in cash and the rest made up of training and jobs with FMG, staff housing and business opportunities, in return for all future mining activity on Yindjibarndi land.

Mining magnate and FMG chairman Andrew Forrest says the company doesn't believe in overly generous cash payments.

"We've seen what welfare in any shape or form, mining or corporate or government welfare does to communities," he tells Four Corners.

"I can take you back to Halls Creek ... or Fitzroy Crossing or Roebourne is probably the worst example where a preponderance of cash and not responsibility, not opportunity attached to responsibility slowly but insidiously decimates communities and we can't support that.

"Yes, it means that the headline cash figure is always less at Fortescue but all other contributions which we make to housing, to employment, to training, to skilling up everywhere in that community, our overall commitment is total."

But Indigenous leaders told Four Corners that, despite the hopes raised by native title legislation nearly 20 years ago, they believe miners maintain the upper hand in negotiations.

Under the legislation all mining companies are compelled to give native title holders is a hearing. If after six months of negotiations there is no agreement, the miner can apply to the Native Title Tribunal for approval - and in almost every case the mining lease has been granted.

Last year, after talks had disintegrated between the two parties, the Yindjibarndi community split. Those who wanted to take the FMG deal formed a group known as the Wirlu-murra Yindjibarndi and in March they held a meeting to win support for the agreement.

The March meeting also won apparent backing to take legal action against any native title claimants who refused to sign the deal, to try to strip them of their authority.

The Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation (YAC) has disputed the result of the meeting, which it described as invalid, and later posted an edited video of the fiery exchanges on the internet.

"Most people I speak to ... across the Pilbara region think native title is a joke," says Michael Woodley, head of the YAC and native title claimant.

"At the end of the day it forces you to participate in the process and then it forces you to concede to some of these poor agreements that they put on the table.

"They say if you don't accept this agreement now then you can have the possibility of getting nothing because the granting of the licence would be made anyway."

Native title expert Ciaran O'Faircheallaigh, of Griffith University, says Australia's Native Title laws should be amended to improve the system.

"The system is set up in a way that does not create a level playing field between mining companies and Indigenous people," he says.

"It systematically creates and an advantage for companies in dealing with Indigenous people. That means that the benefits that are available are often much less than they could be otherwise and because the benefits are small, that intensifies conflict."

For more on this story, watch Four Corners tonight on ABC 1 at 8:30pm.

Forrest attacked over Pilbara project


18 July 2011

MINING magnate Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest has been accused of being a "corporate bully" in pushing ahead with an iron ore project in the Pilbara without traditional owner consent.

Mr Forrest's Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) has been trying to cut a deal with the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation since 2007 to develop its Solomon Hub project, about 200km south of Roebourne.

But no agreement has been reached and Yindjibarndi CEO Michael Woodley says the FMG offer is totally inadequate for loss of country.

FMG is offering a capped $4 million a year in cash payments plus a capped $6.5 million a year in housing and jobs, training and business opportunities.

FMG, meanwhile, estimates it could extract 2.4 billion tonnes of iron ore worth $280 billion over 40 years.

Mr Woodley said today that FMG was trying to convince a minority Yindjibarndi breakaway group to "sign away all rights to our country".

He said the real motivation for that group was a "carrot on a stick" payment of $500,000 on signing.

Mr Woodley said his corporation had objected to FMG being granted mining approvals but the Native Title Tribunal had recommended the company be granted licences.

"That's no surprise to us because the system is rigged so that industry gets what they want and Aboriginal people get nothing."

Mr Woodley said mining giant Rio Tinto had made agreements with other traditional owner groups to give them 0.5 per cent in uncapped royalties for mining on their land.

But he said FMG had refused a request for a share of royalties, with Mr Forrest saying they "don't want to replace government welfare with mining welfare".

"My response to that is they are in essence being discriminatory in terms of indigenous people's ability to manage their own affairs," Mr Woodley said.

FMG's proposed caps on payments implied that "inflation doesn't move" and that the current Yindjibarndi population of around 1000 people would not grow, he said.

Mr Forrest has long championed closing the gap in indigenous disadvantage and in 2008 launched the Australian Employment Covenant to create 50,000 jobs for indigenous Australians.

But Mr Woodley said a different Mr Forrest was seen in negotiations with the Yindjibarndi.

"It is double standards, it is the smoke and mirrors.

"He has come from a position where he says this is our offer, take it or leave it, the ultimatum, the gun to our heads ... he's really a corporate bully," Mr Woodley said.

"We shouldn't be bullied into signing an agreement or given no choice but to sign an agreement because we are poor people living in very harsh conditions."

FMG development director Peter Meurs said good faith negotiations hadn't led to a native title agreement but the company had complied with Federal Court and Native Title Tribunal requirements, enabling the project to proceed.

"It is absolutely our intention to conclude our native title negotiations with the Yindjibarndi ... I don't think it will be very long.

"In our mind, the majority of the Yindjibarndi people are very much in favour of the conditions that are on the table.

"They've indicated that they want to enter into an agreement and it's really a matter of some internal politics within the Yindjibarndi people that have to be sorted rather than the agreement itself."

But Mr Woodley said the Yindjibarndi were "far from signing any agreement" and the majority did not support the proposed deal.

The rising fortunes of Aboriginal Australia

By Robert Gottliebsen, Management Insights

Business Spectator

12 July 2011

In Australia, we have seen many rags to riches stories over the generations, but we have never experienced a transforming event anything like what is happening to our Aboriginal community.

Because of the royalty deals they have already done with mineral companies and those that are ahead, large segments of the Aboriginal community will move from the poorest people in the country to being among the richest. They will control tens of billions of dollars.

When I sat down to interview Warren Mundine, chairman of the Australian Indigenous Chamber of Commerce, and former ALP President, I was expecting to talk about Aboriginal poverty. Instead, we discussed the problems of managing enormous wealth acquired suddenly. Large segments of the Aboriginal community are going to move from welfare to major taxpayers and they are already in deep conversations with tax lawyers and accountants.

I do not believe many Australians understand this dramatic change. I recommend the Mundine interview to you because it will open your eyes as it did mine.

Because the Mundine interview covers such a wide area, my commentary will not do justice to what is now taking place in the Aboriginal community. Mundine is very frank about the social disaster that occurred when millions of dollars were distributed to Aborigines as a result of some of the 1970s and 1980s mineral deals. The current generation of Aboriginal leaders is going to try and learn the lesson. But this time we are talking in billions, not millions, and there is money available to transform education and possibly set up Aboriginal banking and other institutions.

Mundine says that in some places in Western Australia, Aboriginal employment can go from 18 to 25 per cent of the mines and Aboriginal people provide about one third of contracting. Mundine believes that's going to spread to the coal industry in New South Wales and Queensland, when we start "hitting those areas".

The Aboriginal community was potentially going to be badly affected by the government's cattle export bans. Aboriginal people are major players in the cattle industry.

The transformation of Aboriginal Australia from poverty to enormous wealth will not only create management and educational problems of some magnitude within the community but it will also create social pressures in the non-Aboriginal community.

This wealth, plus the mining ventures, will spawn prosperous cities the size of Newcastle and Geelong that will be totally different from cities in eastern Australia. The public servants and others who currently are part of the Aboriginal welfare trap will need to move into other markets. And the Greens may discover that the Aboriginal community is pro-mining because they stand to be the big winners.

Before long we may see Aboriginal people represented on the BRW Rich List in proportions well above their representation in the Australian population.

To watch the interview between Gottliebson and Mundine go to:-

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