Land right

Two na­tive ti­tle cases vic­to­ri­ous

Pilbara News - - Front Page - Tom Zaun­mayr and Stu­art McKin­non

There was an air of ju­bi­la­tion in Roe­bourne last week af­ter a lon­grun­ning le­gal dis­pute that had di­vided fam­ily, friends and the town fi­nally had its day in court.

Jus­tice Steven Rares’ judg­ment last week gave the Yind­jibarndi peo­ple exclusive na­tive ti­tle rights over a 2700sqkm tract of land in the Pil­bara, on which Fortes­cue Me­tals Group’s 70mtpa Solomon Hub op­er­a­tions sit.

Yind­jibarndi el­der Toot­sie Daniel could barely hold back the tears as she de­scribed her joy in the de­ci­sion.

“This is a time to celebrate and re­mem­ber my dear old peo­ple,” she said.

“It is a happy time and mo­ment for all Yind­jibarndi peo­ple. “This means a great deal to me.” Abo­rig­i­nal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Ben Wy­att said the Yind­jibarndi peo­ple had won in the face of sig­nif­i­cant ob­sta­cles.

“Like many other lit­i­gated ar­eas of na­tive ti­tle, this has been a dif­fi­cult and drawn-out process for the Yind­jibarndi peo­ple, and has caused frac­tures within their com­mu­nity,” he said.

“How­ever, to­day’s re­sult is a tremen­dous vic­tory for the Yind­jibarndi peo­ple and I hope they are able to unite and work to­gether to en­sure they are able to utilise their now recog­nised na­tive ti­tle rights to ben­e­fit all mem­bers of the Yind­jibarndi com­mu­nity.”

Fortes­cue be­gan ne­go­ti­at­ing a deal with the Yind­jibarndi Abo­rig­i­nal Cor­po­ra­tion for Solomon Hub, which in­cludes the Fire­tail and Kings Val­ley mines, in 2006 when the miner launched a fea­si­bil­ity study into the ex­pan­sion project.

But ne­go­ti­a­tions stalled in 2008 af­ter the Yind­jibarndi Abo­rig­i­nal Cor­po­ra­tion re­jected the com­pany’s of­fer of $4 mil­lion a year and $6 mil­lion in hous­ing, train­ing and em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties.

YAC wanted Fortes­cue to pay a 0.5 per cent roy­alty on the ore it took and sold, sim­i­lar to agree­ments with ri­val miner Rio Tinto.

A splin­ter group emerged in 2010 with the aim of ac­cept­ing the com­pany’s of­fer and an ac­ri­mo­nious split among the Yind­jibarndi peo­ple en­sued.

Fortes­cue was ac­cused at the time of bankrolling the break­away group and try­ing to mis­lead mem­bers of the Yind­jibarndi to vote against their own in­ter­ests so it could se­cure per­ma­nent ac­cess to Solomon.

Fortes­cue chief ex­ec­u­tive Neville Power said the com­pany was likely to lodge an ap­peal.

“It’s a very un­usual de­ci­sion in that the judge found exclusive na­tive ti­tle pos­ses­sion on this land, which we think is un­likely . . . so we will be look­ing at it,” he said.

Se­nior Yind­jibarndi law­man Michael Wood­ley has vowed to launch a com­pen­sa­tion claim against Fortes­cue.

But Mr Power said that writ­ing a cheque to ease the com­pany’s con­science would only add to the Yind­jibarndi’s de­spair.

He noted that Fortes­cue had em­ployed 13,000 in­dige­nous peo­ple, in­clud­ing Yind­jibarndi.

Pic­ture: Tom Zaun­mayr

Yind­jibarndi Abo­rig­i­nal Cor­po­ra­tion chief ex­ec­u­tive Michael Wood­ley, sec­ond left, with Char­lie Cheedy, Barry Pat, An­gus Mack, Ter­rance War­rie and Cur­tis Lock­yer.

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