The areas in red are FMG Tenements on Yindjibarndi country. IMAGE: Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation.
The FMG Company now holds leases over 1,800 square kilometres of Yindjibarndi tribal country.
After a legal battle that began in 2006, the Full Bench of the Federal Court handed down a decision on August 12 this year that endorsed Fortescue’s ownership of three key leases.
It rejected a Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation (YAC) appeal based on religious and constitutional grounds, claiming that mining would destroy holy places and culture, thus preventing religious ceremonies.
The YAC now plans to seek leave to appeal the decision to the High Court, which legal observers say looks almost certain to fail.
“We are disappointed with the decision but it comes as no surprise,” said its leader Michael Woodley. “This confirms what we have known all along, that the Native Title Act is a bad piece of legislation that consistently works against the interests of the first Australians.
“What is worse is that the system gives us no chance against the teams of company lawyers, land access managers and FMG’s unlimited war chest.
“The deck has been stacked against us.”
Soon after the crushing legal defeat, mining titan BHP Billiton reported a profit of $22 billion, the highest ever recorded in Australian history, boosted by record prices for Pilbara iron ore.
Rio Tinto reported a profit of $7.2 billion and announced plans to spend $4 billion on a huge expansion of its Pilar iron mining operation.
Pilbara pastoralist’s daughter Gina Rinehart is another iron ore magnate, worth around $10 billion today, with multi-billion mine development plans.
She was recently named one of the world’s most powerful women, because of her fabulous personal wealth from Pilbara mines. When Kevin Rudd announced plans for Resource Super Profits Tax, she made a rare, memorable public appearance to stand beside Andrew Forrest with a megaphone, chanting ‘axe the tax!’ at a Perth rally organised by the mining industry.
According to the Australian Electoral Commission, it spent $20 million on the national campaign that followed.
The day after she took over from Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her government caved in to the miners’ demands for lower tax rates.
Meanwhile, the Yindjibarndis, like most of the Pilbara’s Aboriginal citizens, still struggle to survive bleak poverty, enduring overcrowded slum housing that undermines their health and lives.
Even registered Native Title Traditional Owners have no legal right to veto mining, so the native title victory is a foregone conclusion for miners in Australia’s western third: WA produces most of the nation’s iron ore, with exports worth almost $50 billion last year.
With numbers like these, predicted to soar in 2012, the industry is an irresistible force. Miners know that they will win in the end.