'Iron and Dust' - Four Corners Program Transcript

ABC TV 'Four Corners'
First Broadcast: 18th July 2011


KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: His name is Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest. He says he loves and respects Aboriginal people.

That's why, he says, when it comes to mining their land he isn't offering an open chequebook.

ANDREW FORREST, CEO, FORTESCUE METALS GROUP: We've seen what welfare in any shape or form, mining or corporate or government welfare does to communities.

MICHAEL WOODLEY, CEO, YINDJIBARNDI ABORIGINAL CORPORATION: Well without a doubt I think we've displayed over some 50 years that we can walk and chew gum at the same time. We're educated, we're intelligent. The autonomy is what we're looking for.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Welcome to Four Corners.

We're now well used to sensational headlines about the fabulous wealth being extracted from Australian soil and offshore in various parts of the country - a bonanza that could last for many decades. Nowhere is that wealth more evident than in the north-west of the continent.

No individual has benefited more from this mining boom than Andrew Forrest, whose personal wealth derived from massive iron ore deposits on his company's mining leases in the Pilbara is well into the billions.

He earned plaudits from leaders in business and government three years ago for launching an ambitious drive for Indigenous training and employment across Australia that, if successful, could dramatically change the landscape of Aboriginal poverty and despair.

More recently, Andrew Forrest and his company, Fortescue Metals Group have attracted less flattering attention over their dealings with one Aboriginal community in the Pilbara.

Under native title law, the mining company has had to negotiate in good faith with the Yindjibarndi people, offering them a limited share of the huge profits it expects to make from the iron ore it has found on their land. But four years of ultimately acrimonious negotiations have split the Yindjibarndi and their leaders, and left the talks mired in legal argument.

Andrew Forrest has driven a tough bargain compared to some other big miners in the region, because he says he regards their approach as mining welfare.

This saga also highlights the very inconsistent outcomes the Native Title Act has delivered to Indigenous communities around Australia.

Liz Jackson was a substantial way into this story when she was taken ill and was unable to complete it. Liz is on the mend, but I've filled the breach with this report.

The Western Australian Pilbara is an expansive region, rich in Aboriginal tradition.

Six years ago the Yindjibarndi people won a 10-year fight for native title recognition over some of this country, after proving their unbroken cultural connection to the land. A second claim is in train.

Yindjibarndi man Michael Woodley is determined that those ancient links continue, and with family and others is packing up to head bush.

MICHAEL WOODLEY: It's an opportunity, you know, all the time you must do it, take the kids back. You must teach them about the country, you must teach them about the history, the language, the songs, the stories - everything about Yindjibarndi is out there and that's what these kids they need to understand. Going back home is where they find their true identity.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Woodley is the head of the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation, the body that represents the seven elders who claim native title rights over the land.

That role has led him on another journey these past few years, also central to his community's future - building a relationship with mining companies.

MICHAEL WOODLEY: We live in an area that is rich in resources - iron ore, gas salt, so on and so forth - but we seem to be going backwards in fixing up our community. We have a poor condition housing, poor health, bad education standards and we are only going backwards.

KERRY O'BRIEN: The miners have been drawn to the Pilbara's rich, red landscape in pursuit of another objective - hundreds of billions of dollars worth of iron ore.

The chief mining interest in Yindjibarndi country is the dream of one man who has his own connection to the land.

Andrew Forrest, who founded the Fortescue Metals Group, grew up on a Pilbara cattle station, settled by his great-grandfather in the 1870s.

ANDREW FORREST: My strongest mentors outside of mum and dad were Aboriginal people. There was a wonderful old boy called Scotty Black who I saw grow from being a stockman to a head stockman to an overseer to assistant manager whenever dad was away and he was in command of 20 to 30 people at any point in time and we all jumped to whatever height he specified.

But at the same time, Kerry he walked in another world equally as strongly, even more beautifully and that was his own culture, his own social, wonderful fabric of being Aboriginal. And he was the senior law man and he did the initiation ceremonies, the circumcisions, the wonderful corroborees and he held both of these together beautifully and he set a great example.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Michael Woodley and Andrew Forrest - two men of the Pilbara - are now pitted against each other.

Forrest's previous iron ore exploits have already made him a billionaire, and with Fortescue Metals Group, FMG, he wants to develop a massive new mine called Solomon Hub on Yindjibarndi land. There's an estimated $280 billion worth of iron ore at present day values, waiting to be extracted from the ground.

The Yindjibarndi won native title rights in 2005 over the northern section of their land, and are waiting for a second claim to be decided on land further south.

FMG has taken out 43 exploration tenements covering half of the 13,000 sq km of Yindjibarndi land.

It is this southern portion where the Solomon mine will be located. The Solomon project will double the size of FMG's already substantial operation.

Over the next 40 years FMG is hoping to scrape some 2.4 billion tonnes of iron ore off this land. The infrastructure and people that will come with it will inevitably reduce much of this country to an industrial landscape.

MICHAEL WOODLEY: Over there is a feature of significance places that tells where the Yindjibarndi country stops and another group starts.

LIZ JACKSON, REPORTER: Tell me what you see the country looking like in about 20 years time?

MICHAEL WOODLEY: Well, I think in the rate that these things are happening, exploration minings, I don't think we'll have a country left basically.

Everything we have here today now is pristine, untouchable. No more. It's going to be gone forever.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Home these days for many Yindjibarndi is the impoverished town of Roebourne, an hour or so north of their traditional country.

The town has around 1,100 residents. About three-quarters are Aboriginal. Unemployment is high and the local prison overcrowded.

It's a town in decay - many of the shopfronts are long closed down. Even the local pub shut its doors years ago.

Forrest says he's also seen the depths of Aboriginal misery in Roebourne.

ANDREW FORREST: If you want to join me one evening after 11 o'clock at night and walk down the streets of Roebourne and have little girls come up to you, like they have to me and offer themselves for any type of service I don't want to mention on television for the cost of a cigarette, then you know you've come to the end of the line. Social breakdown is complete. Now I'm not going to encourage with our cash that kind of behaviour, Kerry.

MICHAEL WOODLEY: We've suffered for so long and the only way to get out of poverty, the only way to fix up some of our social problems is to, is to insist that these companies pay a fair deal.

KERRY O'BRIEN: The negotiations between Woodley's Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation and Forrest's FMG, over access to land for mining, began four years ago. The Yindjibarndi opening gambit was for a 5 per cent royalty, then worth an estimated $150 million a year.

Four Corners has obtained this video of a three-day meeting in Roebourne early in their negotiations, in June 2008.

BLAIR MCGLEW, GROUP MANAGER, PILBARA APPROVALS, FMG (Excerpt from Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corp meeting, June 2008): I guess what feels fair to one party doesn't feel fair to another party...

KERRY O'BRIEN: A 5 per cent royalty was pie in the sky for FMG's chief negotiator Blair McGlew. For FMG from the outset, it seemed a royalty in the true sense of the word was never to be part of the equation.

BLAIR MCGLEW (Excerpt continued): That number is extortionally high, it's way beyond, it is probably 10 times higher than any other number...

KERRY O'BRIEN: The Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation offered a compromise of a 2.5 per cent royalty. Blair McGlew insisted that any royalty be capped at a maximum of $2.8 million a year. FMG would spend an extra $2 million on training future Indigenous workers.

Later in the three-day meeting, Blair McGlew made plain that FMG would be influenced by the company's focus on its bottom line.

BLAIR MCGLEW (Excerpt continued): FMG wants to be the lowest cost producer - that's our goal, that's our number one goal out there. And we recognise that we don't pay quite the same money as some other companies, so we have put our energy and focus into other areas, and that is employment support and business support.

KERRY O'BRIEN: In an early meeting I think Blair McGlew, your negotiator, June 2008, a meeting in Roebourne said that Fortescue wanted to be the lowest cost producer in the Pilbara and that, and that that was in the context of you would only go so far in your deal.

ANDREW FORREST: I think he was referring to the mining costs and operating and shipping costs Kerry. It's, I mean we're not the lowest cost when it comes to Aboriginal involvement and we are one of the most expensive in terms of...

KERRY O'BRIEN: But they're part of your costs.


KERRY O'BRIEN: They're part of your overall costs.

ANDREW FORREST: Kerry they absolutely are but that's the important part I think.

KERRY O'BRIEN: The message it seemed to me from that meeting was, we're going to be very prudent in this deal, we're going to drive a deal about costs because our overall costs, we want our overall cost to be low. Is that wrong?

ANDREW FORREST: Kerry we do want always our overall cost to be as competitive as possible, it is how we can survive as an independent Australian company. The line I would like to draw in that is when it comes to Aboriginal contribution in Indigenous involvement we've always gone way, way beyond the call of duty.

KERRY O'BRIEN: In that same 2008 meeting, the Yindjibarndi leaders were also told that if they couldn't reach agreement, FMG was prepared to use legal action to push its plans through anyway.

BLAIR MCGLEW (Excerpt continued): Fortescue will always use legal avenues to get our mining leases and roads and whatever else. I'm not going to hide that. We will do that every time, because we are in a hurry, in a rush.

KERRY O'BRIEN: That statement highlights at least one reality of Australia's native title laws.

Ciaran O'Faircheallaigh is a native title expert from Queensland's Griffith University. He's attended hundreds of meetings between mining companies and Aboriginal groups over the past 25 years.

He says that while they have a seat at the table, Aboriginal groups often don't have equal power.

PROF. CIARAN O'FAIRCHEALLAIGH, GRIFFITH UNIVERSITY: When a mining company sits down to negotiate with native title parties there is a six month period of negotiation. The mining company knows that at the end of the six months it can go to the National Native Title Tribunal and get its mining lease.

This is a very simple and fundamental point. If one bargaining party is under enormous pressure to do a deal and the other one isn't, the people who are under pressure generally have to give in and that's what's happened and that's why, except where Aboriginal people have major political power, deals tend to be very uneven.

KERRY O'BRIEN: O'Faircheallaigh says the original Native Title Act was spawned in the belief there would be pressure on both sides to strike a deal because there would be no certainty about what would happen in the Native Title Tribunal. But that was not the way it turned out.

CIARAN O'FAIRCHEALLAIGH: Out of some 25 cases where a conflict over a grant of a mining lease has gone to the tribunal, in only one case has the tribunal turned it down. The tribunal has been very reluctant to impose onerous conditions on mining companies. For these reasons mining companies have come to believe that if they go to the tribunal they are virtually assured of getting their mining lease. So the pressure that should be on them to reach agreement is not there.

ANDREW FORREST: The Native Title Act doesn't give us that certainly Kerry. We can only operate according to the act and there is always uncertainty around it, which is why the native title parties have such a strong hand in negotiations.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But the but the very clear message was if we can't negotiate, yes we'll negotiate in good faith and I'm speaking from the heart but if we can't negotiate in the end we'll get there. The project will go ahead.

ANDREW FORREST: Well, well Kerry...

KERRY O'BRIEN: We will use our legal means.

ANDREW FORREST: Not always, not always.

KERRY O'BRIEN: We will use the legal means.

ANDREW FORREST: I mean and projects get delayed and as they're delayed you lose massive present value. So if the cost of the delay is extraordinary and, you know, if you're prepared to bear that cost because you really believe in what you're doing, that you do not want to be part of the welfare cycle, then that's a big cost and we have worn that cost.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Negotiations continued, with concessions on both sides, but in 2009 they disintegrated completely.

BLAIR MCGLEW: Michael Woodley removed himself from the negotiations. He said the negotiations are over. So we said that's fine, if the negotiations are over then the deal's off. That's, that was his choice. He chose down that path. We tried to mediate a solution. I tried to re-engage him. Now, that didn't work.

MICHAEL WOODLEY: I think, you know, you're better off holding onto your pride than selling your soul to the devil. You know if the Government allowing mining companies to come into our community and dictate terms, right, and then put Indigenous people in a position where they say if you're not going to accept this then you're going to get nothing. We live with nothing for so long. We live with nothing today.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Not all elders were happy that Michael Woodley was taking such a hard line. Allery Sandy is one of them.

She is a senior Pilbara artist with works depicting her traditional land displayed in the Art Gallery of Western Australia.

ALLERY SANDY, WIRLU-MURRA YINDJIBARNDI CORP. MEMBER: I started off doing this. I did some landscaping as well, land paintings of standing stones and all that sort of stuff, which sold quick. And I love doing Cossack, the river, the mangroves.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Last year, Allery Sandy was part of a push with some other elders to form a new body - the Wirlu-murra Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation - to revive the deal with Andrew Forrest's group. It receives some financial support from FMG.

There were 10 original native title claimants to the land containing the Solomon project. Three of them have since died, and of the remaining seven needed to sign off on any deal with FMG, three have gone across to the Wirlu-murra group. The other four, including Michael Woodley, have continued to refuse to sign.

The latest offer is a $500,000 signing fee, a fixed or capped $4 million a year in cash, plus up to $6.5 million a year in staff housing, jobs, training and business opportunities. This is in return for allowing all future mining activity on all Yindjibarndi land.

The new group wants to take FMG's offer rather than risk getting nothing if the courts rule in FMG's favour.

Vince Adams is one of those keen for a deal.

VINCE ADAMS, WIRLU-MURRA YINDJIBARNDI CORP. MEMBER: The deal that's on the table is not the best deal, trust me. You say it's not a deal that's worth pennies, okay. It's not the best deal but at the end of the day it's a deal we can work on to move forward.

ALLERY SANDY: With that offer we can build on it, we can have things that the elders wanted like education, health and training. We see many other communities that have started with a deal like that and, you know, we can do the same, yeah.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But the discord is also personal. Some didn't like Woodley's management style.

ALLERY SANDY: Elders never had a chance to speak up, to put their voice through and to be heard by the other groups and this has been going on for a long time and we had enough. You know we are elders. We want to be respected as elders and we have told this group many times you are accountable for all Yindjibarndi people, not just your little group you know. We are Yindjibarndi people here.

MICHAEL WOODLEY: We have since been finding out since they started their corporation that their position by supporting FMG's deal is the only reason that they broke away from the main corp. They didn't express those feelings at all when they were a part of the decision-making process.

KERRY O'BRIEN: FMG had set up an office in Roebourne and signalled their door was again open for talks.

They also provided practical support to the new Wirlu-murra group, including contract work, money for administration, an anthropologist, and lawyers from a Perth-based legal firm.

How much funding have you provided to them to deal with you?

ANDREW FORREST: Well look they did head hunt one of our key anthropologists and good luck to them.

KERRY O'BRIEN: And have you paid him on their behalf?

ANDREW FORREST: Kerry, under the Native Title Act we have to deal with an equal party. So they recruit lawyers, accountants, anthropologists, independent experts and send us the bill. You know it's a, it's not a bad deal for them. They have put together their own legal and financial and anthropological team and we have to fund that if we want to deal with them...

KERRY O'BRIEN: But the end result is, the end result is that you haven't shifted one iota in your bid so what you're saying is you have to provide them with all of this expertise to be an equal party to a deal in which you're not going to budge and that they know from the outset they've got to accept or get nothing.

ANDREW FORREST: No. Kerry to be conscionable we have to make sure they're fully armed with all the services and skills that they need to reach an agreement with us. Now they've come in...

KERRY O'BRIEN: But the only agreement they can reach is the one you're not going to budge on.

ANDREW FORREST: Well not at all Kerry. They...

KERRY O'BRIEN: You are going to budge?

ANDREW FORREST: They- we have an agreement already but they also know, Kerry and I've really would be grateful if you could accept this point, they know Fortescue's never stopped at the foot of an agreement yet.

We've signed six other agreements like it, we've got another few to go and it's always the same Kerry. After the agreement is done, Fortescue's always gone massively beyond that agreement. But Kerry, yes it isn't in the form of cash payments. We know what that does to communities and the heart of Fortescue, my own heart just can't be part of that. It's easier to do it but we won't do it.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Four months ago division over the stalled mining talks reached boiling point.

ALLERY SANDY (Excerpt from Wirlu-murra group meeting, March 2011): I'm going to give you time to cool off. Five minutes out. No, no we are just going to go into our meeting, nothing else. This meeting is set for the agenda.

KERRY O'BRIEN: The Wirlu-murra group called a meeting to try to wrest control from the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation.

It wanted approval to withdraw all legal objections to FMG's plans and to immediately finalise a deal with the miner. And if any of the senior elders refused to sign off on the agreement it wanted the meeting's support to seek Federal Court intervention to strip them of their authority.

Four Corners was given access to hours of video footage of the meeting.

(Excerpt continued)
MICHAEL WOODLEY: If the motivation is about money...

ALLERY SANDY: No it's not about money.

MICHAEL WOODLEY: Then look what happened....

ALLERY SANDY: Your money is coming out of your heart and your head and your feelings. I don't know what you are talking about money, your mother need money, not us.
(End of excerpt)

As emotions ran high, centenarian elder Ned Cheedy - one of the four native title claimants refusing to accept the deal - rose to speak.

NED CHEEDY, ELDER (Excerpt continued, subtitles): It's my country! Everybody listen to me. Have you all got ears? I want you all to listen to me. Listen to my words. Listen to me and my words.

KERRY O'BRIEN: After disagreement over who should run the meeting the Wirlu-murra's lawyer Ron Bower took the chair.

RON BOWER, LAWYER, WIRLU-MURRA GROUP (Excerpt continued): What my clients have asked me to do is to move directly to the business items of the agenda. The various items in the agenda have to do with the proposals from the Wirlu-murra members that Yindjibarndi enters into an agreement with FMG rather than continuing to be in the legal dispute.

KERRY O'BRIEN: As the meeting continued, it became more and more heated.

(Excerpt continued)
MICHAEL WOODLEY: The man sitting outside is a billionaire and we in here are poor, arguing about what? Tell that bloke to come in here and talk to us. Tell Andrew Forrest to come and talk to us, he wants our country... No, no, no, we're not going to go to any agenda mate. Bring him in. Bring him in.

ANDREW FORREST: Hello everyone. My name's Andrew Forrest. I'm a local boy up here. I grew up in the Ashburton Country near (inaudible) and I've been coming to Roebourne since I was two years old. And I have a really heart for the people here, I have a great love for this country and I do want to do whatever I can to see this community grow and improve with my own efforts.

And with your own efforts, working together. And my heart is with Aboriginal people, it always has been, it always will be and I'm very prepared to do everything I can to help you. Now if you've got any questions for me I've very pleased to take them from you.

MICHAEL WOODLEY: Thanks for coming here because what we have right is a really serious issue today. Today what we have right...

MAN: Can't hear you Michael!

WOMAN: Get on the microphone Michael.

MICHAEL WOODLEY: I was just saying was thanks to Andrew for coming because what we have here today is a very serious issue. We have a community divided. On one side of the, one side of one side of the floor we have a people who are willing to accept an agreement put by you on the table that has no future for this side of the people, right. Now we...

ANDREW FORREST: That's wrong. That's completely wrong.


MICHAEL WOODLEY: We read your agreement, we understand your agreement and to be frank with you it's crap, right. You're coming to us saying we want to mine your country, take 50 per cent of your country and give you $4 million capped, right. In return we give you training, employment and business opportunities.

Now they are broken promises. If people want to do that, that's fine, right. But there's a big issue here Andrew, and the issue comes with Yindjibarndi people looking after ourselves from the country that's making you rich and your shareholders and your investors.

ANDREW FORREST: Okay, look I've heard... (applause). I've have read those statements in the thing, in the papers which Michael Woodley has put out. What I would like to share with you and this is why I am here, I am here personally, what Michael Woodley just said to you is blatantly untrue. It is completely false.

And I would like to share with you why it is false. I think you judge a person not on their words but on their actions. What do they actually stand for, what is the calibre of the man? If you look into the soul of the person, right, and you know if you look at me what I've already done for Aboriginal people.

I've had one message I give and I've been giving this ever since I became a businessman, the more you know Aboriginal people the more you love them.
(End of excerpt)

KERRY O'BRIEN: Lawyer Ron Bower sought to move onto a series of votes to get endorsement for the FMG deal. Michael Woodley tried to get further access to the microphone but failed.

(Excerpt continued)
RON BOWER: Okay. We're going to take a vote on this motion...


(Wrestle for microphone)

RON BOWER: Okay. We are going to put the motion. (Crowd shouting) Can I see the hands of those that support this motion? Big up, high. I'm going to count the hands.
(End of excerpt)

KERRY O'BRIEN: The series of motions were put to the vote, and passed by an apparent majority, disputed by Woodley's group, who walked out in protest and declared the outcome invalid. Woodley says the majority of the community wasn't present.

MICHAEL WOODLEY: It wasn't a majority. The majority didn't vote in favour of the deal. There were people who were, who were, who were bussed in from another town to come in and to help support the FMG Wirlu-murra attempts to try and overturn what we say is the majority of people who are voting against this deal.

ANDREW FORREST: Under the Native Title Act we have to deal with a majority of the community and if the majority of the community make their case so clear that they hold a meeting and vote...

KERRY O'BRIEN: But how, how legal was that meeting as a...

ANDREW FORREST: Oh Kerry, it was completely legal thank you. It had about 170 people in attendance and 90 per cent voted in favour of it.

SCREEN TEXT (Excerpt from Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation video): Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) is aggressively pushing to mine iron ore in Yindjibarndi country - they call is Solomon Hub.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Woodley's group later posted edited footage of the meeting onto the internet. It soon went viral.

MICHAEL WOODLEY: Well I think the main reason for putting on the website is just to give people some sort of understanding of what really happens behind the closed doors of native title negotiations.

ALLERY SANDY: It's a sad thing. And that's really hurt me a lot (crying) to see someone who we respected and put in there as an eldership. It was our Yindjibarndi business to be sorted here in this community of Roebourne. That's where we sort our problems here, not for everyone to see, the Governments and everyone else. This is Yindjibarndi issue and he made it state-wide, he made it go on the internet.

ANDREW FORREST: It didn't show the very clear attempts to repeat the result of every other meeting, which is to stop the meeting going to a vote. The shouting and the intimidations and the threats was not on that video. What we saw was abuse by them towards us and others, we saw that lawyer as you've pointed out defend the microphone so that his people could speak too, not just the minority group.

And what I really resented about that video is that it didn't show what the people wanted, it didn't show the votes, it didn't show them voting 95 to five in favour of the resolutions, in favour of moving on.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Was it also the way you were depicted you didn't like?

ANDREW FORREST: Kerry, look I think it was unfair, it was defamatory but we turned the other cheek and moved on.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But before moving on, FMG issued legal threats to the video-hosting website that resulted in them deleting the video. It has since reappeared on YouTube and other sites.

CIARAN O'FAIRCHEALLAIGH: I don't believe that what was shown on that video is typical of the behaviour of mining companies in Australia. I have attended hundreds of meetings; I have never seen a meeting that was like the one on those YouTube videos.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But whatever the legalities of the acrimonious meeting back in March, there is still the issue of how the quality of the deal driven by Andrew Forrest's FMG compares with others in the Pilbara.

Last month, five Indigenous groups reached a happier agreement over their country with global miner Rio Tinto.

The deal includes an uncapped royalty of 0.5 per cent of all ore extracted, plus a comprehensive package of business and employment. Being uncapped, the deal is potentially worth far more than the Fortescue deal, as much as $2 billion over the next 40 years.

Elders Cyril Lockyer and Elaine James say the negotiations took seven years.

CYRIL LOCKYER, KURUMA & MARTHUDUNERA ELDER: I think it's the end of the long weary road that everybody has been sort of looking forward to, in regards to getting an agreement signed and a lot of the stuff we talked about in regards to employment, training and compensation and I think it should be benefit for everybody in the group.

ELAINE JAMES, KURUMA & MARTHUDUNERA ELDER: Well my best hope is by, you know, people got opportunities to be self-sufficient. You know, one day own business and put up something for their, feed the children, you know, they're just still coming up you know. They'll be the ones that gonna benefit more. You know big step for us was just getting to this final agreement, you know, although it's been a very hard road for us to get there and finally we are here.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Simon Hawkins was their representative in the negotiations.

SIMON HAWKINS, CEO, YAMATJI MARLPA ABORIGINAL CORP.: In 10 years time I want to come back and hope that that all those commitments that have been made by Rio Tinto are met and that traditional owners are actually getting on with their business, getting on with their life.

KERRY O'BRIEN: How do you compare what you were offering ah the Yindjibarndi people with what Rio did with its deal, where I think it was 0.5 per cent royalty valued at something like 10 times what you were offering these people?

ANDREW FORREST: Well look you're making a point, I'm glad you brought that up Kerry because there was a brew-ha-ha in the media about the $2 billion - it was over five communities, so divided by five, and it was over 40 years, so divide that five by another 40. You come down to around $10 million a year for each community group.

KERRY O'BRIEN: You put a, you put a limit on the amount whereas they apply a percentage. In the Rio deal for instance they have applied a percentage so as the plant expands, as the ore goes up, as the amount of ore comes out of the ground, so the royalty will change. Yours doesn't.

ANDREW FORREST: Kerry, you're drawing on one example out of hundreds. There are hundreds of others who are equal precedents and they pay more, they pay, they pay less or they pay none at all.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Andrew Forrest has likened the payment of more generous amounts of cash in mining royalties than his to mining welfare.

(To Andrew Forrest) Why is it welfare, why isn't it a right on the part of these people? I don't see how you can get away from the fact that you are making a judgment that they are not able to properly manage their own money.

ANDREW FORREST: Kerry they are but...

KERRY O'BRIEN: You're either saying that they're not entitled to any more money as a business transaction and so therefore you're only going to give them the $4 million plus the 6.5.



ANDREW FORREST: Four hundred million Kerry.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Yeah, per year.

ANDREW FORREST: Most Australians think that is a lot of money Kerry.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Ah well that depends on how much you're getting.


KERRY O'BRIEN: But, but, but I, it seems...

ANDREW FORREST: Kerry that is a...

KERRY O'BRIEN: Just let me continue with the, continue with the proposition. Either, either you are saying that this deal is only worth that much to them or you are saying, well it's actually worth more but that's all I'm going to give you because I don't know that you can actually handle it yourself.

ANDREW FORREST: Ah Kerry it's unfair of you to draw that proposition. It is completely unfair of you to draw that. We had a proper negotiation as we're required to under the Native Title Act and we fulfilled the letter of that law and more. And Kerry just because we choose to not hand out bucket loads of cash, Kerry this is a negotiation. There are two sides. You're behaving as though we're obligated to and somehow we're doing the wrong thing if we don't. That is your inference.

MICHAEL WOODLEY: Well, at the end of the day I think we've displayed over some 50 years that we can walk and chew gum at the same time. We are educated, we're intelligent. The autonomy is what we're looking for, the self-sustainability of making decisions about our own life and our future is what we tell people like Andrew Forrest and FMG that you need to, before coming into our community and talking to us, that you need to that you need to first and foremost respect.

CIARAN O'FAIRCHEALLAIGH: The High Court said in 1992 that native title is a property right. It is a property right in the same way that other forms of property are owned by millions of Australians, yet that seems to be forgotten in debates about benefits from native title. Why should a miner be able to tell Aboriginal people how they use revenue that they receive as a result of having a property right? What would happen for example if a mining company tried to tell Gina Rinehart how to use her royalties from iron ore in the Pilbara?

KERRY O'BRIEN: A key part of FMG's offer to the Yindjibarndi, is the promise of training and jobs.

BRENTON: I was doing the health worker before, but wasn't for me so thought I'd come here and get on the course and get a job out there on Solomon's.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Here in Roebourne, FMG has set up an Indigenous training program through the local TAFE to help prepare new recruits, like Brenton, for the mines. He's one of 17 trainees at FMG's Vocational Training and Employment Centre, or VTEC.

BRENTON: Mum and dad happy that I'm doing something, you know, instead of being a lowlife sitting around at home and whinging to them for weekend money to go out partying and stuff, you know. Least I get my own income and do my own thing. Don't have to be dependent, stand on my own two feet.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Wirlu-murra member Vince Adams also believes employment is vital.

VINCE ADAMS: They've changed their life around in eight weeks, eight weeks. They're now working people. They're employed, you know. They're educated, they're, you know, they're employed, they're out there, they're, you know, changing their life around.

You go round Roebourne and you see them, you see the difference, you see the, you know, the fluorescent coloured shirts hanging on their lines.

CIARAN O'FAIRCHEALLAIGH: Don't forget that employment and the wages that are paid in employment are for an honest day's work. It amazes me to hear some people in the mining industry suggest that wages are a benefit for native title holders. They are payment to people for their work. You can't use them to compensate a community, you can't use them to foster culture, you can't use them to set up new businesses, you can't use them for educational scholarships.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Andrew Forrest has certainly earned praise from some Aboriginal leaders on another front. In addition to his own FMG training and jobs program VTEC, he's the key player behind a multi-million dollar national scheme to give Aborigines jobs across a range of industries.

ANDREW FORREST (Speech, August 2008): It's the mark of any society as to how they look after their most under-privileged as to the quality of their nation. That is why we are here.

KERRY O'BRIEN: The Australian Employment Covenant was launched in 2008 with the backing of then prime minister Kevin Rudd and media baron Rupert Murdoch, with the ambitious promise of placing 50,000 Aborigines in new jobs from one end of Australia to the other within two years.

After three years, the covenant has just seen 4,300 jobs filled. But with growing corporate support, the AEC says it now has 58,000 guaranteed job commitments.

ANDREW FORREST: We've worked the phones now for two and a half years, chief executives and chairmans all across Australia, and 300 of them have stepped up and have signed that commitment, that covenant to pledge a job to an Aboriginal person and now it's the challenges on government, the Indigenous communities and the rest of Australia to create the environment that those Aboriginal people feel confident to take that job be, take that training because there's a job guaranteed at the end of it.

KERRY O'BRIEN: In Port Hedland, FMG is celebrating after reaching its own target of training and hiring 300 Aboriginal workers under the covenant.

ANDREW FORREST (Speech): We are not doing this because we're great fellas. I'm not doing this because I want to win an award. I'm doing this because I can tell you straight, employing Aboriginal people is great for business.

KERRY O'BRIEN: In the more remote areas, the future prospects of indigenous Australia will be strongly linked with mining and associated industries for many years to come.

But it's now abundantly clear that negotiations under the native title framework are complex and can fracture families and communities. Nor does the framework guarantee consistent outcomes.

SIMON HAWKINS: The Native Title Act has given a seat at the table for Aboriginal people. But in 19 years you would have thought there would have been significant amendments to ensure that the Native Title Act provided a better framework for the economic opportunities particularly that are presenting themselves in the Pilbara at this moment.

CIARAN O'FAIRCHEALLAIGH: The Native Title Act should be amended so that the National Native Title Tribunal can include payments based on production or on profits as part of any determination. That would remove part of the pressure on Aboriginal people.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Do you believe, whether it was the intent of the act or not, that the deck has become unfairly stacked on the side of the miners away from the Aboriginals?

ANDREW FORREST: Kerry that is just so untrue, it has...

KERRY O'BRIEN: Well I'm asking you as a question.

ANDREW FORREST: Yeah well I... no you're presenting a proposition. Kerry it has not been unfairly stacked. Before the Native Title Act existed there were very few, if any, contributions. The Native Title Act has come in and there are now contributions everywhere. That's great.

Where Fortescue stands is, because I've been in this country, unlike you know so many other executives, they might swing their way in from London or wherever, I've grown up in this country, I've seen how wonderful these people are and how they can slowly be strangled at the hands of welfare, how many funerals that I've personally been to...


ANDREW FORREST: Friends of mine from school Kerry and so we live and breathe this.

KERRY O'BRIEN: In the meantime, the Yindjibarndi conflict continues to simmer. The Wirlu-murra's lawyers have just launched Supreme Court action to have an administrator appointed to the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation, or YAC. They claim it hasn't been run properly.

ALLERY SANDY: We would like to take over but also we would like the YAC CEO to step down and the chairperson to step down and we would like to put someone else in there who can be honest with us and do what the people want.

MICHAEL WOODLEY: Look this is, this is very serious for us. For these guys to take this approach means that they're not holding back in terms of what they want to, what they are trying to achieve. The bottom line to this approach is to seek control of the YAC so they can then go ahead with their relationship with FMG on this very bad deal. This is the bottom line.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Even if a deal is reached, Roebourne Aboriginal Church Pastor, Marshall Smith says the scars in his community will take a long time to heal.

MARSHALL SMITH, ROEBOURNE ABORIGINAL CHURCH PASTOR: The bottom line in the fight, it's all about the royalties, the negotiations. It'd be all about somebody saying I want $10 and somebody else saying I want $100.

The bible actually teaches that. It says for the root of all evil, money that is, and it's all kinds of evil that people scheme to get to that root. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Up the road, the Yindjibarndi's most senior lawman Ned Cheedy - who has just been accorded NAIDOC's award for Lifetime Achievement - is recording his ancient stories for a new generation of Yindjibarndi.

He's trying to preserve not only his culture, but the community itself. With no certainty of a windfall from the mining boom, a strong culture may be the most valuable thing they have.

NED CHEEDY (Subtitles): Divided now, all of us. Yindjibarndi's, all of us are the country, country we must bring back together. And all of us Yindjibarndi, we all became divided. I feel in my spirit a very terrible thing happening.

(Sound of singing and Aboriginal music)

KERRY O'BRIEN: That report was produced by Peter Cronau and Karen Michelmore.