Fortescue pays royalties to Aboriginal group, a year late

The Pilbara region in Australia is home to cultural heritage sites. (Image courtesy of Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura Aboriginal Corporation.)

Australia’s Fortescue Metals has pledged to pay nearly A$2 million ($1.4 million) in outstanding royalties to an Aboriginal partner, around a year after they were initially due, a spokesman for the group said on Thursday.

The A$1.9 million figure represents full payments for 2019 and comes amid a growing spotlight on miners’ relationships with Indigenous people, following peer Rio Tinto’s destruction of ancient, sacred caves last year.

The Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation (WGAC) on Wednesday received a letter from Fortescue Chief Operating Officer Greg Lilleyman confirming the payment and expected to receive it “in the next few days”, a spokesman told Reuters.

It was still waiting to hear however, whether 2020 payments, due this month, would be paid, he added.

Fortescue confirmed the “good faith” payment while discussions of heritage approvals at the Queen’s Valley project in Western Australia continue, but did not comment on whether it would pay the 2020 royalties this month.

The miner is expected to report record half year profits at more than $4 billion later this month amid soaring prices for iron ore, used in steel-making.

Fortescue’s Solomon Hub, which has production capacity of 75 million tonnes per annum, lies on ancestral land of the Eastern Guruma – or Wintawari Guruma – people, along with some 90 kilometres of its Eliwana railway.

The WGAC has said it estimates at least 434 heritage sites have been destroyed through mining, while 285 more are close to mining operations and inaccessible to traditional owners.

The miner says WGAC is contractually obliged to approve the leases.

“It is only the failure to comply with this contractual obligation over a prolonged period that resulted in Fortescue taking the decision to temporarily withhold calendar year 2019 compensation payments,” it told a government inquiry last year.

However, WGAC director Joselyn Hicks told the same inquiry that WGAC had asked for more information on Fortescue’s mining plans before it approves the leases, since the areas contain numerous sacred sites.

(By Melanie Burton; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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