Juukan Gorge investigation reports that Andrew Forrest’s FMG is keeping $ 1.9 million in royalties from the original owners

Juukan Gorge investigation reports that Andrew Forrest's FMG is keeping $ 1.9 million in royalties from the original owners

Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) is withholding $ 1.9 million in royalties from a group of traditional Pilbara owners because they requested more information about a mining proposal, and a federal investigation was also heard.

Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation (WGAC), which represents the eastern Guruma people, accused FMG of withholding information on its plans intentionally and complying with the agreement only “when it suits them”.

The company is among a number of indigenous organizations that have presented evidence before a parliamentary committee investigating Rio Tinto’s destruction of 46,000-year-old rock shelters in Juukan Gorge.

Eastern Goruma covers 6,500 square kilometers of land and is located next to the country of Putuo Conti Kurama Pinikura (PKKP) as well as the Rio Tinto Brockman 4 mine, which triggered the investigation.

WGAC Director Jocelyn Hicks said that listening to the country of Eastern Guruma is one of the most heavily explored sites in Australia, and that 93 percent of the land is covered with mining buildings.

Jocelyn Hicks, a woman from the Eastern Jurumah region, said miners have shown “a little respect” for the traditional owners.(ABC Pilbara: Karen Michelmore)

One-way relationship

The group has agreements with Rio Tinto and FMG, but Ms. Hicks and other representatives described the relationship as one-sided, saying the miners showed “a little respect”.

The WGAC issued a number of dispute notices accusing FMG of non-compliance, including allegations of unauthorized influences on its sites.

“FMG routinely withholds information from the company, in contravention of the terms of our agreement,” Ms. Hicks said.

“The effect of this is our inability to participate in government decision-making processes, such as the works application programs submitted to the Ministry of Mines.

“FMG has withheld the royalty payments, amounting to $ 1.9 million, since February 2002, because we simply requested information about their plans for some of the mining leases that they applied for.

“We asked FMG to reconsider their position and they have informed us that they will only pay royalties when we sign the mining lease.

“We know that when FMG is awarded the mining leases, we will not have the strength to stop them from destroying our sites and causing damage to the places we care about.”

A river bordered by green grass and native trees stretching toward a slightly cloudy blue sky.
Traditional owners say the eastern country of Goruma, in the east of the Pilbara, has been severely affected by mining activity.(Supplied: Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation)

‘Commitment to transparency’

Tony Bevan, Director of the WGAC, said royalties related to existing agreements are on the lands of the eastern Guruma.

“FMG is currently doing what it likes in the eastern country of Juruma and is not paying anything for it,” he said.

He said that the WGAC had started issuing FMG “Notices of Conflict” when they violated their agreement, and sent out six notices over the course of a year.

But since the notifications carried no meaningful penalty or effect, the group stopped sending them.

“Notices of conflict are getting nowhere,” he said.

FMG CEO Elizabeth Gaines said the company took its relationship with traditional owners very seriously.

“We are committed to open and transparent participation to facilitate payment of the royalty due, in accordance with the contractual agreement and the obligations of the two parties,” she said in a statement.


Ms. Hicks said that at least 434 heritage sites in the eastern country of Juruma had been destroyed by mining activity, while 285 others were “in close proximity” to current operations and inaccessible to traditional owners.

“Access to our traditional lands has diminished to the point that it is impossible to visit many of our important places and look after the country,” she said at the hearing.

“We have to ask, and sometimes we implore FMG and Rio not to destroy our holy places.

“The government always supports them.”

Rio Tinto operates six mines and three railroads, FMG owns the Solomon Mine and is building 90 km of its Eliwana Railway across the country.

Both companies plan to further expand mines.

Rocky red hills in the Australian desert.
The WGAC says FMG has avoided this 23,000-year-old site on Spear Hill, but is sandwiched between a new rail access road and the Illuana Railway.(Supplied: Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation)

Used cars for the original land

Ms Hicks said at the hearing that Rio Tinto was paying compensation to only three of its mines.

When the first commercial arrangement was concluded in 2001, the residents of Eastern Guruma gave up most of their rights for $ 7 million in benefits, including two homes in Karatha, two used Toyota Land Cruisers and $ 300,000 a year in compensation.

The deal was revisited in 2007, when WGAC agreed to give up all of its rights to claim compensation for the three existing mines in exchange for compensation to the Nammuldi Mine, which had begun work in 2006.

“We now know that was a decision that benefited Ryo a lot more than us,” Hicks said.

Original title ‘physically removed’

The WGAC believes that Rio Tinto extracts 90 million tons of iron ore from its land each year, which will be worth about $ 10 billion annually at current iron ore prices.

“People say, ‘Why did the company sign these unilateral agreements with FMG and Rio?’” Hicks said.

“The answer is, we don’t have the power or resources of FMG or Rio Tinto.

“When we see what we have brought to FMG and Rio, we feel that we have been taken advantage of.

“Our sheikhs and sheikhs fought hard for our original title – we believed it would enable us to protect our country and our sites.

“These agreements have already stripped our original deed.”

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