PERTH (miningweekly.com) – Iron-ore major Fortescue Metals on Friday moved to assure shareholders that a decision by the High Court of Australia to deny the company leave to appeal an earlier ruling on a native title determination would not affect the current or future mining operations at the Solomon Hub, in the Pilbara.
The High Court on Friday rejected Fortescue’s application for special leave to appeal an October decision by the Full Federal Court to uphold the Yindjibarndi people’s native title rights over land in the Pilbara, which includes the site of the Solomon Hub.
The Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation in 2003 first lodged its native title claim over the 2 700 km2 area, making it one of the longest running native title claims in the country.
Fortescue in 2005 discovered the Solomon iron-ore deposit, but has been operating the mine without a native title agreement with the Yindjibarndi people after negotiations collapsed in 2008.
The High Court loss meant that Fortescue could be faced with a compensation claim from the Traditional Owners of the land, since the Federal Court ruling effectively meant that the company had built the Solomon Hub operation without permission from the Traditional Owners.
“Fortescue has a strong history of working with our Traditional Custodians and Native Title Partners across the Pilbara, delivering Native Title royalties, training and assistance to over 1 600 Aboriginal people and over A$2.5-billion in contracts to Aboriginal businesses,” said CEO Elizabeth Gaines on Friday.
“We accept, and have always accepted, the Yindjibarndi people’s non-exclusive native title rights and interest over the relevant area. While we are disappointed with the outcome, we believe it is an important point of law regarding the test for exclusive possession with potential implications for a range of industries, we accept the High Court’s decision,” she said.
Gaines added that the company remained open to negotiating a Land Access Agreement to the benefit of the Yindjibarndi people on similar terms to agreements already in place with other native title groups in the region.
“We currently have seven agreements in operation providing native title royalties as well as heritage management, training, employment and business opportunities. These agreements provide significant economic and social benefits to the relevant communities,” Gaines said.
Western Australian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Ben Wyatt, has congratulated the Yindjibarndi people for their patience and determination in their 17-year struggle to have their native title rights conclusively recognised.
"Today's High Court decision marks the end of a successful 17-year struggle by the Yindjibarndi people in the Pilbara to have their native title rights conclusively recognised.
"I hope the divisions created through this process can now begin to heal, and all parties can embrace a new era of cooperation and consultation which respects the rights of the native title holders,” Wyatt said.