Billionaire Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest’s Fortescue Metals Group needs to be “very careful” says Federal MP Warren Entsch, after the company used a technicality to reject a call to halt the destruction of Aboriginal heritage sites.
- A resolution to halt mining which could impact sacred sites has been rejected by Fortescue Metals Group
- The company said the resolution will be heard at their AGM in 2021, after not being submitted in time for this year’s meeting
- MP Warren Entsch said all mining companies are on notice as there is strong sentiment against destroying Aboriginal sites
The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) asked for a resolution to be put before shareholders at Fortescue’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) in November.
The resolution asks for the iron ore miner to put a moratorium on activities that may impact sacred sites until relevant laws are strengthened.
The ACCR emailed scanned copies of the resolution to Fortescue prior to its deadline, so it could be put to the company’s AGM.
Fortescue responded the day before deadline saying it required the original documents.
However, due to a problem with ACCR’s courier TNT the documents were delivered a day late.
Rival iron ore miner BHP accepted scanned copies of ACCR’s resolutions last month and has also put a moratorium on the disturbance of sacred sites.
ACCR’s Brynne O’Brien says Fortescue is using a “minor technicality to avoid shareholder scrutiny of their relationships with Aboriginal traditional owners”.
“What are they hiding?” she asked.
Fortescue declined to answer the ABC’s questions about where in the company’s constitution, or the Corporations Act, it states that original documents, not scans, must be provided by deadline.
Fortescue released a statement after rejecting ACCR’s resolution saying it is one of Australia’s largest Aboriginal employers and the resolution would hurt Indigenous communities.
“Fortescue’s operations provide a unique opportunity to empower Aboriginal people to bring about generational change.”
It said the proposed moratorium has been suggested by people “unfamiliar with the West Australian mining industry” and said it would “disempower local Aboriginal people in the Pilbara”.
The company said the resolution will be heard, but in November 2021.
Outspoken MP Warren Entsch, who is the chair of the Joint Standing Committee of Northern Australia’s inquiry into Rio Tinto’s blasting of the 46,000 year old Juukan Gorge caves, said all mining companies are on notice.
“The Committee doesn’t have the authority to tell companies what to do,” he told the ABC.
“However, I think that Fortescue needs to look closely at the reaction of Australians to what Rio did and how it has subsequently behaved, and be very, very careful.”
The Committee is currently investigating the events that led up to the blowing up of the Juukan Gorge caves and is then expected to advise the Government on what law changes are needed to prevent further destruction of culturally significant sites.
The Western Australia Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt is also reviewing the state’s Aboriginal Heritage Act, including the controversial Section 18 which legalises the destruction of Aboriginal sites.
“Miners need to be aware there is outrage in the Australian people,” Mr Wyatt said.
“The caves weren’t just relevant to a small number of black fellas living in the desert — this is the property of all Australians.
“Some of these sites like the caves show 46,000 years of human habitation — that’s important to everyone.
“There’s plenty more sites that are in the way of mines and companies need to be mindful of the consequences.”
Fortescue’s mines are largely on land that belongs to the Yindjibarndi people.
The company has been fighting the Yindjibarndi people in court on and off over a decade to not pay royalties or compensation on the ore it extracts from their native title holdings.
The industry standard for the Pilbara is to pay traditional owners 0.5 per cent of the production value, but Fortescue refers to that as “mining welfare” and prefers to offer employment and training to Indigenous groups.
Chairman and founder Mr Forrest said at the AGM last year that he was reluctant to yield anything to the Yindjibarndi people.
“This is not a community that I am going to empower with tens of millions of your cash,” he said.