Greens want FMG manipulation claims investigated

The Greens have urged the Federal Government to examine allegations mining company FMG tried to manipulate the native title process during negotiations over an iron ore project in WA's Pilbara.

It has been alleged by lawyer Kerry Savas that Fortescue Metals Group rigged the outcome of a meeting between the company and Aboriginal landowners last year.

The Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation, which has been opposed to the mine, lays claim to the land but a splinter group of traditional owners, the Wirlu-murra, is keen to see the project proceed.

Mr Savas worked for a legal firm paid by FMG to represent the Wirlu-murra.

At the meeting in March 2011, a show of hands gave support to the project.

FMG has rejected the allegation, saying all the right processes were followed.

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert says the rights of the Yindjibarndi people must be protected.

"There are very serious accusations going on of manipulation," she said.

"It has been a matter of serious discussion in the Pilbara for some time and it is time the Federal Government investigated these very serious claims." The Yindjibarndi's Michael Woodley says landowners still strongly oppose the project but are willing to negotiate.

"I think the opportunity to see this thing come through to the other end where everyone wins is still open," he said.

"But, at the end of the day our position today is the position we held on the 16th of March meeting that we strongly opposed this project from going ahead." Mr Woodley says FMG needs to change.

"The status quo remains the same; FMG through its ideology in terms of what [it]thinks of Indigenous people of the Pilbara is still the same and therefore we don't accept it," he said.

"And, therefore we stand our ground and what's best moving forward.

"The company has been lying since day one in terms of how they conduct business.

"What they've done with the mine, they've just rigged it up in favour of FMG for an outcome for FMG and they had no business being there." FMG's director of development, Peter Meurs, said the company has paid a lot of attention to matters that relate to Aboriginal people.

He told the ABC he rejected accusations the company established the Wirlu-murra to derail opposition to the project.

"Fortescue definitely did not set up a rival group to YAC," he said.

"We were approached as Fortescue by other people from the community, particularly the women of the community, that really wanted to work with Fortescue." Mr Meurs said FMG paid for the expenses of people who attended the meeting to ensure "fair representation".

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