DOWNLOAD: Stoush over FMG native title splinter group

Stoush over FMG native title splinter group

Flip Prior, The West Australian, December 23, 2010

A bitter stoush between native title claimants negotiating with Fortescue Metal Group over its $5 billion Solomon Iron Ore project has resulted in a breakaway group being formed in a bid to strike a multi-million dollar deal with the resources giant.

Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Michael Woodley has accused FMG of using dirty tactics to get around an impasse in negotiations by starting separate talks with claimants through the newly formed Wirlu-Murra Aboriginal Corporation.

Mr Woodley said the minority group had been “led down the garden path by dollar signs” and he was exploring all legal avenues to block any deal.

He said claimants had been trying for several years to negotiate an indigenous land use agreement with FMG, whose Solomon deposits in the Hamersley Ranges span 30sqkm of Yindjibarndi country.

Any group which signs an ILUA with FMG will get $500,000 upfront and a compensation package worth about $10.5 million a year, including a capped $4 million cash payment with $1 million for an “elders foundation” and $6.5 million in training and employment schemes.

Mr Woodley had been arguing for a much bigger package, saying the project was projected to earn $7 billion a year and would cause “massive damage” to country. “The deal FMG is offering is a set, capped price – if the iron ore price doubles, then we are always and only going to get $4 million,” he said.

Talks between Yindjibarndi and FMG broke down in 2008, amid conflicts over the size of the compensation package and claims the company ignored advice not to use a certain route to access a drilling site.

In 2009, the National Native Title Tribunal ruled that Fortescue had negotiated in good faith with Yindjibarndi, a finding later upheld in the Federal Court.

The State Government then granted three mining leases to FMG but Yindjibarndi has appealed that decision and challenged the miscellaneous licenses granted to FMG. But an FMG spokesman confirmed negotiations had now begun with the Wirlu- Murra Aboriginal Corporation on a package including a signature payment, royalties, training, employment, housing and mining contracts.

He said FMG had always negotiated in good faith and the new group represented more Stoush over FMG native title splinter group than 100 people who disagreed with Mr Woodley’s stance and actions. Their lawyer, Ronald Bower, blamed communication issues for the internal breakdown, saying the new group had formed because people were “terminally frustrated” with Mr Woodley’s management style and lack of consultation.

“They decided that because they couldn’t find out what he was doing in negotiations and litigation with FMG that they would approach FMG themselves,” Mr Bower said. “They don’t think there’s any need for litigation and major disagreement … instead the thing to do is simply get on with crunching a deal.”
But Mr Woodley accused FMG of “playing hardball” and doing “divide and conquer tricks” after it was unable to get what it wanted.

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