Mining magnate Andrew Forrest has been accused of being “paternalistic” in his attempts to strike a native title deal with a group of traditional owners. The dispute involves a $5 billion iron-ore investment by Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) in the Pilbara, in Western Australia.

With a Federal Court judgment on legal action by 700 traditional owners over the claim looming, Forrest has attempted to strike a deal with a breakaway group of 200 Yindjibarndi people.

At a public meeting with the breakaway group in March, Forrest’s lawyers had a fight over a microphone with one of the senior traditional owners who questioned whether the meeting was legal.

A video has been uploaded by the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation expressing their concern over the meeting:

FMG’s Great Native Title Swindle from Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corp. on Vimeo.

Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation have raised legal questions about who formed the breakaway group, the Wirlu Murra Yindjibarndi. Their leader is Allery Sandy.

A Fortescue spokesman told The Age that Ms Sandy approached the company after the corporation rejected Fortescue’s offer.

”We have held talks with her and her people in good faith,” the spokesman said.

According to the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation video, the native title lawyer who was meant to act as an independent chair, Graham Castledine, walked out of the meeting after the agenda could not be agreed on by all parties.

Crikey contacted Castledine this morning. He confirmed that he had left the meeting but he declined to comment on the matter.

Michael Woodley, CEO of the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation, told Crikey this morning that Fortescue is “still talking to the black fella of old”.

“When he walks into an Aboriginal community, he walks back in time,” Woodley told Crikey. “He think he’s discussing matters with Aboriginal people that they discussed with Aboriginal people back in the 1950s and 60s.”

The Age reported this morning that Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation rejected an annual offer of $10 million — $4 million plus $6 million in work and training opportunities.

Woodley told Crikey: “We told FMG: ‘we don’t think negotiations are going anywhere, we believe that your offer on the table is not reflective of where you’re going to be in the next 100 hundred years and therefore we want you to leave our community’.”

In the video, Forrest says he should be judged on his actions, not his words.

“What we’re asking here, particularly for you mob over here who’ve just heard that complete and utter bulldust from Michael. If you give me the opportunity and you give my company the opportunity I want to do the same thing for you. I have one message give, and I’ve been giving this ever since I became a businessman, the more you know Aboriginal people. The more you love them. I deeply respect Aboriginal people.”

Woodley told Crikey this morning that the dispute isn’t about trust.

“This is a commercial deal you don’t take or trust anyone for their word,” he said. “You do the deal, you put it on paper and then a relationship can then develop and be grown out of that. This is a commercial business transaction. He should know this, he’s a businessman.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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