Fortescue loses bid to appeal court decision in indigenous land case

The Solomon Hub (pictured) comprises the Firetail and Kings Valley mines which together have production capacity of about 70 million tonnes of iron ore a year. (Image courtesy of Fortescue Metals Group)

Fortescue Metals Group said on Friday it has been refused leave to appeal a court decision that gave an Aboriginal group exclusive title rights to land at its Solomon Hub iron ore mine in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

In 2017, Australia’s Federal Court ruled in favour of the indigenous Yindjibarndi People in a longstanding claim over land used by Fortescue to mine millions of tonnes of iron ore at its Solomon mining hub.

The High Court decision marked the end of a 17-year struggle by the Yindjibarndi people

The ruling handed the Yindjibarndi people exclusive native title rights over 2,700 sq km (1,040 sq miles) of land covering the Solomon hub, which has a production capacity of 70 to 75 million tonnes a year.

The world’s No. 4 iron ore miner lodged an application with the Australia High Court after losing an earlier appeal last year, but was refused leave to appeal.

Yindjibarndi leader Michael Woodley told Reuters in 2017 when the decision was first handed down that the group would seek compensation from Fortescue because it had built the Solomon operations without an appropriate land-use deal.

Fortescue said on Friday it was disappointed with the court decision but it did not expect the outcome to have any impact on current or future operations or its mining tenure at the Solomon Hub, and it did not expect any financial impact.

“We remain open to negotiating a Land Access Agreement to the benefit of all Yindjibarndi people on similar terms to the agreements Fortescue has in place with other native title groups in the region”, Chief Executive Elizabeth Gaines said in a statement.

“This is an important point of law regarding the test for exclusive possession with potential implications for a range of industries,” she added.

State Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt said the High Court decision marked the end of a 17-year struggle by the Yindjibarndi people and he hoped all parties “can embrace a new era of co-operation and consultation”.

(By Shruti Sonal; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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