Mining magnate Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest defends refusing to pay $1.9million in land royalties to Aboriginal group while mine access talks stall over fears Fortescue could blow up a sacred site
- Fortescue owes $1.9million to the Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation
- Company locked in a land use battle with the traditional owners in WA’s Pilbara
- Chief executive Elizabeth Gaines confirmed Fortescue is withholding royalties
- Land owners have accused the mining giant of ‘bullying’ tactics in the handover
Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest’s mining company has been accused of using ‘bullying tactics’ to force the destruction of sacred Aboriginal sites.
Fortescue Metals Group is refusing to hand over $1.9million in royalties owed to the Eastern Guruma people in Western Australia‘s Pilbara region.
They are locked in a land use battle with the traditional owners who refuse to sign land access deeds without seeing future plans for the site.
Twiggy Forrest’s Fortescue Metals Group has been accused of ‘bullying tactics’ to force the destruction of sacred aboriginal sites (Twiggy Forrest is pictured with wife Nicola Forrest)
Chief executive Elizabeth Gaines was quizzed about the royalty dispute with the Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation on Tuesday.
She was fronting a parliamentary inquiry examining the destruction of the ancient Juukan Gorge site by rival mining giant Rio Tinto.
Ms Gaines said the two parties were subject to a land access agreement which had the primary purpose of granting tenure, but did not indicate or give approval to future mining activity.
‘The only avenue available to us is to withhold the compensation whilst we work through this proactively,’ she said.
‘This is the first time in all of Fortescue’s history that we’ve done this. We have seven other native title land use agreements, we haven’t taken this action in the past.
Fortescue Metals Chief executive Elizabeth Gaines (pictured) was quizzed about the royalty dispute with the Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation on Tuesday
She was fronting a parliamentary inquiry examining the destruction of the ancient Juukan Gorge site (pictured) by rival mining giant Rio Tinto
‘We are working to facilitate the payment of those native title compensation payments as quickly as we can. We’ve asked them to meet with us and we’re waiting to hear from them.’
Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation director Joselyn Hicks said the traditional owners had been seeking more information about Fortescue’s plans.
‘We know that if FMG is granted their mining leases then we have no power to stop them destroying our sites and causing damage to the places we care about,’ she said.
The Aboriginal group says they have issued six dispute notices to Fortescue Metals over their use of the land over the past year.
This includes other alleged cases of failures to pay royalties to the traditional owners.
Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation’s Tony Bevan said the dispute notices simply aren’t being dealt with so they have stopped issuing them.
Fortescue in December submitted a Section 18 application to destroy Eastern Guruma sites in order to expand its Solomon iron ore operations (pictured)
‘There’s a pattern of non-payment of royalties and, to be honest, country is more important than money, protecting heritage is more important,’ he told the Guardian.
‘They go nowhere. There’s no power or disciplinary action.’
Fortescue in December submitted a Section 18 application to destroy Eastern Guruma sites in order to expand its Solomon iron ore operations.
WA’s Aboriginal Cultural Materials Committee in February resolved to defer considering the application and recommended Fortescue undertake further consultation.
Documents tabled to the inquiry reveal Fortescue’s lawyers wrote to the committee in April, threatening legal action if the application was not progressed.
The traditional owners said it reflected behaviour that was ‘bullying, dismissive, disrespectful, and inconsistent with their published values and the expected behaviours of an ASX Top Ten Company’.
Ms Gaines said the letter from external legal firm Green Legal did not reflect the company’s views or track record on native title partnerships.
Fortescue in June asked the WA Government to pause considering the Section 18 application while it consulted further with the committee.
The company said it requested the process be resumed in September and WGAC had provided a letter of non-objection.
Ms Gaines said Fortescue developed its mining plans to avoid and protect culturally significant places in consultation with traditional owners.
The company holds 121 approved Section 18 applications to destroy sites. Another five are pending.
Workers watch over the opening of Fortescue Metals Group’s Solomon mine site in 2013 (pictured). At the time the company described the opening as one of the most important milestones in its 10-year history
It wrote to Pilbara native title groups in July promising to notify them in writing before disrupting any sites subject to Section 18 approvals.
They also vowed to ensure no new information had been uncovered since the applications were approved.
The inquiry is set to provide an interim report by December 9.
The Eastern Guruma people have six Rio Tinto mines, a Fortescue mine and three railway lines on their lands.
They have lost an estimated 434 heritage sites to development.