Fortescue tries to rig native title meeting

By Win Padauk Wah

Western Australia’s small mining town of Roebourne became a centre of attention following a native title meeting that was taken over by outsiders and turned into a sham on March 16. The Fortescue Metals Group (FMG), in order to push the mining of iron ore in what it calls the “Solomon Hub”, intruded into a native title meeting in the Yindjibarndi Country of the Pilbara, creating a scandal. FMG is owned by Australia’s richest man, Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest.

As one of many undemocratic actions undertaken by FMG, a bus load of people from the breakaway splinter group Wirlu-Murra was transported to the meeting, all costs paid by FMG, and registered as members of Yindjibarndi Country. To make things appear legal, FMG even hired a lawyer to represent the breakaway group. Ron Bower, the FMG-paid lawyer, took over chairing the meeting after the independent chair walked out to protest the unfair circumstances.

In a room full of people, only a handful were true representatives of the Yindjibarndi Country, including Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation CEO Michael Woodley and the eldest countryman, Ned Cheedy. The rest were FMG staff and the people from the bused-in breakaway group. Video footage of the meeting made public by the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation highlighted going-ons in the meeting, where people were shouting over each other for an opportunity to speak and the FMG-hired lawyer physically denied the Yindjibarndi representatives access to the microphone.

Despite only a minority from the Yindjibarndi Country being present, the chairman went ahead with the voting, which meant that FMG got its way as expected. The minority representing the Yindjibarndi Country walked out of the meeting in protest halfway through.

The footage of the meeting, which was first posted on the video sharing site Vimeo and later taken down under FMG pressure, then spread to YouTube and other websites. As damage control, FMG had to make its own version of the meeting available on the web and also modify its Wikipedia entry, taking out any reference to the meeting. But the damage was already done and FMG copped criticism from the opposition and government and in the state parliament.

The Yindjibarndi Country events recall the James Price Point situation, in which the WA government issued a compulsory acquisition notice. Probably because of the negative public response regarding James Price Point, the government and the mining giants tried a more indirect way of acquiring the Aboriginal land by hijacking the Yindjibarndi Country native title meeting.

The meeting highlighted the manipulative and exploitative reality of capitalism, where the basic rights of working people are robbed for corporate profit. It was also unsurprising to see the indigenous communities abandoned by the state government and left helpless in negotiations with the big companies.

To quote Andrew Forrest’s speech to the meeting, “A man should be judged by his actions and not by his words”. It is as obvious as a footprint in the mud what Forrest and FMG’s intended actions are regarding the Yindjibarndi Country. It is up to us to extend our solidarity and stand together with the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation and the whole Aboriginal community. Visit <www.yindjibarndi.org.au> to find out more about how to help. H