MAC: Mines and Communities

Australia Yindjibarndi people win against Fortescue Meals

Published by MAC on 2019-10-20
Source: Australian Broadcasting

For earlier FMG-related article, see: Fortescue loses Aboriginal claim 

Andrew Forrest's Fortescue Metals Group loses appeal against Pilbara
native title claim

By Andrea Mayes and Rebecca Parish


18 October 2019

Mining magnate Andrew Forrest faces a compensation fight after losing an
appeal against a WA native title ruling over a huge tract of ore-rich
Pilbara land.

* The Yinjibarndi people were granted native title to 2,700 square
kilometres of Pilbara land

* FMG says it may appeal to the High Court after its failed Federal
Court challenge

* But the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation has labelled the ruling a
"fantastic result"

The land in question includes the multi-billion dollar Solomon Hub iron
ore mine belonging to Mr Forrest's Fortescue Metals Group (FMG).

Two years ago the Federal Court granted native title to 2,700 square
kilometres of land north of Karijini National Park to the Yinjibarndi

FMG appealed the decision to grant exclusive native title to the group,
citing concern about the higher standard of engagement with traditional
owner groups required.

But today the Federal Court rejected the appeal on all grounds — prompting
FMG to flag a possible appeal to the High Court.

"We are considering our next steps which may include an appeal to the High
Court," FMG chief executive Elizabeth Gaines said in a statement.

FMG 'misunderstood' native title rights

But an ongoing dispute over compensation has led to a bitter falling out
between the mining company and leaders of the group.

Part of FMG's appeal centred on disputing the court's native title
determination "concerning the meaning and significance of the
Yindjibarndi's activities on country," according to the appeal judgement.

"Implicit in these comments is the notion that the exercise of traditional
rights over country is in some way a less legitimate form of occupancy
than that seen in the context of Anglo-Australian relationships to real
property," Justices Robertson and Griffiths wrote in their rejection of
the appeal.

The judges found that such a position "is to misunderstand the concept of
native title rights and interests to require them to fit into
non-Aboriginal concepts of property, the exercise of proprietary rights
and the enforcement of property rights".

"That is why what occurs is recognition of native title; not conferral,
and not transformation into non-Aboriginal property rights," they wrote.

The compensation fight begins

YAC chief executive Michael Woodley described the decision as a "fantastic
result" but said the group would still have to fight for compensation from

"Everyone had mixed emotions, mainly having tears in their eyes," he told
the ABC after receiving the news.

"[But] we are continuing to have to fight for our rights.

"Through now the 15-year journey of first launching the claim, we have
lost all of our elders, we have lost some of our members in between
that as well."

Mr Woodley said he did not know how much compensation the group would be

"That's not the reason we do this obviously, it's more protecting our
rights," he said.

But FMG downplayed the possibility of a substantial compensation payout.

"The matter of compensation is an entirely separate matter and our legal
advice is consistent with our previous view that there is no material
financial impact to Fortescue following today's decision," Ms Gaines said.

"Our mining tenure rights and current operations are also unaffected."


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