MAC: Mines and Communities

"Historic" agreement with Rio Tinto is "closer"

Published by MAC on 2006-05-19

"Historic" agreement with Rio Tinto is "closer"

19th May 2006

A year ago, three Native Title Groups in Australia severely criticised Rio Tinto for its failure to negotiate with them an equitable land title agreement [see:]

But they now say they are close to doing so.




19th May 2006

Six native title claim groups from the Pilbara region of Western Australia have taken a step closer to sealing the largest collection of native title land access agreements negotiated anywhere in Australia, reaching historic Binding Initial Agreements (BIAs) with Rio Tinto Iron Ore for native title over its Pilbara operations.

The initial agreements will provide traditional owners' consent to, and support for, RTIO's present and future operations, and will streamline RTIO's native title approvals processes.

While full agreements are still to be finalised, the BIAs pave the way for a smoother negotiation process with one of the major areas of contention in native title negotiations resolved - the agreed level of financial compensation for the native title groups.

Chairman of the Pilbara Native Title Service and member of the Kuruma Marthudunera native title working group Neil Finlay said the BIAs are important as they will allow future negotiations to focus on broader economic and social issues.

"We have waited a long time and worked very hard to reach these agreements. To finalise them will mean a lot to my people and the many other Aboriginal people in the Pilbara," Mr Finlay said.

RTIO also welcomed the BIAs, with Dr David Smith, Managing Director of Pilbara Iron, part of Rio Tinto Iron Ore, saying, "These Binding Initial Agreements mark an important milestone in the negotiating process and in the ongoing relationship between Rio Tinto Iron Ore and traditional owners in the Pilbara."

"RTIO is committed to establishing genuine and meaningful partnerships with the Aboriginal people of the Pilbara. This includes working with these groups and the PNTS who have done a great job in bringing the parties together, to negotiate full agreements that will result in training, jobs and other tangible benefits for all parties," said Dr Smith.

The six native title claim groups which have reached BIAs with RTIO are Gobawarrah Minduarra Yinhawanga (GMY), Innawonga Bunjima (IB), Kuruma Marthudunera (K&M), Ngarlawanga, Nyiyaparli and Puutu Kurnti Kurrama Pinikura (PKKP). The traditional owners were represented in the negotiations by the Pilbara Native Title Service (PNTS), part of the Yamatji Marlpa Barna Baba Maaja Aboriginal Corporation (YMBBMAC).

Simon Hawkins, YMBBMAC Executive Director said, "These initial agreements have occurred through the commitment and dedication of the traditional owners and RTIO. An open cooperative approach has been very beneficial.

"The BIAs support the desire by Pilbara traditional owners to share in the benefits associated with the mining industry in the Pilbara," Mr Hawkins said. "Recent academic reports such as the Taylor and Scambary report Indigenous people and the Pilbara mining boom: A baseline for regional participation show just how little improvement there has been in the quality of life of Pilbara Aboriginal people over the past 40 years."

"We have come a long way," said Roy Tommy of the Gobawarrah Minduarra Yinhawanga people and member of the PNTS Executive Committee. "Aboriginal people stayed poor in the shadows of the mines, without jobs and without any say in what happens to our land and waters. It is good to see that this situation looks as though it is changing and becoming better."

Peter Jeffries of Puutu Kurnti Kurrama Pinikura people and member of the PNTS Executive Committee welcomed the prospect of future negotiations with the company. He said, "These preliminary agreements mean that Rio Tinto understands that Aboriginal people need to play a part in what happens to our country. It means that we are bound together as partners."

Mr Hawkins said that other large mining companies should follow the lead set by RTIO. "Rio Tinto has made a concerted effort to negotiate with traditional owners in a dignified and respectful way," he said. "I urge other mining companies operating in the Pilbara to follow the example set by these agreements."

• YMBBMAC is a native title representative body which represents the traditional owners of the Yamatji (Murchison and Gascoyne) and Pilbara regions of Western Australia. In the Yamatji region it operates as the Yamatji Land and Sea Council and in the Pilbara as the Pilbara Native Title Service.

• YMBBMAC has a representative area of almost one million square kilometres - around 21 times the size of Switzerland.

• The organisation represents 30 native title claims across the Yamatji and Pilbara regions.

For further information, contact:
Marjorie Syddall, Public Relations & Communications Specialist
Yamatji Marlpa Barna Baba Maaja Aboriginal Corporation
Telephone: (08) 9268 7014
Switchboard: (08) 9268 7000
Mobile: 0407 645 646

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