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RPT-Aboriginal group says Fortescue withholds royalties on mining leases

Tue, 13th Oct 2020 23:41

(Repeats with no changes)

MELBOURNE, Oct 13 (Reuters) - An Australian Aboriginal group
said on Tuesday that Fortescue Metals is withholding
nearly A$2 million ($1.4 million) in royalty payments until it
signs off on mining leases that cover areas containing many
sacred sites.

The country of the Eastern Guruma, or Wintawari Guruma,
people is one of the most heavily explored areas in Australia,
with more than 93% covered by mining tenements, the Wintawari
Guruma Aboriginal Corporation (WGAC), said.
The group estimates at least 434 heritage sites on their land
have already been destroyed through mining, while 285 more are
close to mining operations and inaccessible to traditional
owners.

Fortescue's Solomon Hub, which has production capacity of 75
million tonnes per annum, or about 40% of the miner's
production, is on Eastern Guruma land, along with some 90
kilometres of its Eliwana railway.

The group has asked for more information before they approve
new leases Fortescue has applied for, WGAC director Joselyn
Hicks told an Australian parliamentary inquiry on Tuesday.

"These mining lease areas contain numerous sacred sites....
(Fortescue) have advised us that they will only pay the
royalties when we sign off on the mining leases." The payments
amount to A$1.9 million, she said.

Fortescue said it has "been working closely with Wintawari
to assist them in meeting the obligations under the Native Title
Agreement," including a variation to include new exclusion zones
and additional benefits last year.

"We are committed to open and transparent engagement to
facilitate the outstanding royalty payment, in accordance with
the contractual agreement and the obligations of both parties,"
Chief Executive Elizabeth Gaines said in a statement.

Hicks said the people's agreements with the world's fourth
biggest iron ore miner contain no legal provisions to protect
their cultural heritage, leaving them reliant on its discretion
to safeguard their interests.

The inquiry is looking at how Rio Tinto legally
destroyed sacred rock shelters showing 46,000 years of human
habitation as part of an iron ore mine expansion in Western
Australia in May.

Hicks said traditional owners had not known the level of
destruction of their country that would result when they signed
agreements with miners Fortescue and Rio Tinto.

"We did not know that over 400 of our sites would be
destroyed. We did not know that our sacred springs would dry up.
We did not know that we would be locked out of our own country."

($1 = 1.3902 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Jan Harvey)

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