Attack is the best form of defence. The people of Yindjibarndi have been doing just that, with the video of the March 16 meeting proving to a be an international success, going viral and spreading word of their impending fate farther than they could have hoped. Social media has truly come to the fore for this outback population.
Seeking to put their side of the story forward, Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) have taken to the same media waves, producing a ten minute video presenting the opinions of a few of the Wirlumurra who form part of the so-called breakaway group.
What FMG doesn’t tell you is that the Western Australian government have been complicit to some degree in continuing to grant FMG mining leases on the disputed land in December 2010, despite rejection of the FMG proposal by the YAC. It’s interesting to note that in the same month, FMG tried to hold a meeting with the same agenda as that used in March.
Not only are the Yindjibarndi fighting with FMG, they also have a dispute lodged against the State in the Federal Court regarding the legality of the mining licenses. It was at the time of lodging those legal challenges that FMG changed tactic, according to YAC Chairman Michael Woodley, from negotiating with the Corporation to undermining them. Ultimately, their own community has fractured and the Wirlumurra group, comprising about 200 of the 700 Yindjibarndi people, was formed.
Eric Ripper, State Opposition Leader, declared the meeting a “shocking shambles”. Fortesuce CEO Andrew Forrest, suggested that the MP should not comment without knowing what the benefits of his company’s industry would provide to the Yindjibarndi. Whatever the benefits, the conduct of the meeting, from 30 minutes of video, is hard to dispute. With no independent mediator to chair the meeting, a vote that does not indicate how many abstained, a fight over the right to speak and FMG paying the lawyer acting for the Wirlumurra, there appears to be a significant degree of persuasion being used to encourage an outcome that meets a financial bottom line that is at the lower end of an acceptable range for the mighty miner. Simon Millman, native title lawyer says:
“While FMG has put money on the table for compensation, this pales into comparison to the profits that will be made from this mine on our client’s traditional land, and it pales into comparison to royalty amounts that have been paid to non-Aboriginal people.” (Slater & Gordon backs Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation in fight against FMG)
YAC Chairman, Michael Woodley, is fighting for a fairer price for his people:
“Forrest has offered the Yindjibarndi people compensation worth $10 million a year, but they have rejected it as inadequate. They want four times that amount, in line with compensation being paid by other big mining companies in the Pilbara. One breakaway group wants to accept the lower offer.” (The Age, 6 April 2011)
Standard agreements offer around 0.5% return on income; with the FMG mining proposals on Yindjibarndi land, the miner is expected to rake in $1 billion per annum. Asking for $40 million dollars return constitute sonly 4% of revenue. Hardly an unreasonable amount given what appears to be the industry standard.
The problem with the FMG account, at least as far as I can see, remains in the inconsistencies. Why did Graham Castledine, the independent mediator of Castledine Legal & Mediation Services, withdraw from the meeting before it had even begun? According to the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation, he refused to be a pawn in the manipulation of the meeting process, when FMG refused to let him try to negotiate an outcome with the elders directly. FMG have made no mention of Mr. Castledine and he himself, has declined to comment on the matter.
Another discrepancy is the figures quoted by Mr. Forrest and the FMG produced video countering the YAC account. According to Forrest, the vote was unanimous in favour of the Wirlumurra proposals, numbers totalling 126-0; the top Google hit that leads to the FMG video indicates in the sidebar that 20 people voted against the proposal. So which is it, Mr Forrest? If you can be unsure about the unanimity of the vote or otherwise, could it be that the vote was conducted in such circumstances that the outcome was equivocal?
The FMG video shows very select portions of the meeting, mostly at the end after the YAC members have departed. Here’s an idea: why doesn’t someone, either YAC or FMG, post the entire meeting on the internet, un-edited and see what we all think? If there is nothing to hide about the manner in which either side conducted the meeting, it should be clear to the rest of us.