Big Yindjibarndi turnout for Federal Court
A group of 23 Yindjibarndi People traveled from Roebourne to attend the hearing of their Section 66b (NTA) application, scheduled for 2nd October 2012 in the Federal Court of Australia (Perth). Most of these photos were taken outside the Commonwealth Law Courts in the morning, during the lunch break, and at the conclusion of the hearing.
The two-year-long ‘divide and conquer’ campaign by Fortescue Mining Group’s (FMG) against the Yindjibarndi People and the Yindjibarndi Prescribed Body Corporate (YAC), which is aimed at securing a low-cost Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) and quick mining approvals for its Solomon Project, has caused extreme damage to the wellbeing of the community. In particular, FMG’s full financial backing of Sylvie Allan and Aileen Sandy, as minority members of the Yindjibarndi #1 Claim ‘Applicant’ group, and representatives of the Wirlu-Murra splinter (WMYAC), has effectively crippled the community’s ability to protect heritage within its Claim, conduct business concerning its Claim, or to legally conclude agreements with other more responsible companies, such as Rio Tinto—with whom the YAC and the majority of Applicants have happily negotiated. Resources better spent on community development have necessarily been diverted to legal defense.
On 24 March 2012 over two hundred Yindjibarndi People met and cast their votes in a Section 66b authorisation meeting in Roebourne to authorise a new, unified group of Applicants to represent the Yindjibarndi #1 Claim, which under lays FMG’s Solomon Project. The Yindjibarndi People voted by clear majority to endorse an enlarged group of thirteen, which unanimously supports the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation and its management of native title matters, and especially, its rejection of FMG’s high-handed and inequitable approach to negotiations and agreement-making over its Solomon Project. Those authorised as the new Applicants were: Ned Cheedy (R.I.P.), Joyce Hubert, Thomas Jacob, Pansy Sambo, Stanley Warrie, Judith Coppin, Allum Cheedy, Jean Norman, Esther Pat, Michael Woodley, Kevin Guinness, Maisie Injie and Angus Mack.
THE PURPOSE OF THE COURT HEARING
On 2 October 2012 the Judge, the Hon Neil Walter McKerracher, was asked by the Yindjibarndi People to hear their application asking that the Court make an order to replace the ‘Applicants’ in accordance with their wishes as expressed in the March 24 plebiscite. Representing the Yindjibarndi People and majority of the Yindjibarndi Applicants, were Senior Counsel Kerri Judd and Garrie Moloney, and YAC In-House Legal Counsel, George Irving.
The two dissenting Wirlu-Murra (WMYAC) ‘Applicants’ supported by FMG (Sylvia Allan and Aileen Sandy), appeared in the court to oppose the YAC application, and were represented by Greg McIntyre SC, and litigation lawyers Cameron Eastwood and Cameron Sweeney—all of whom are paid for by FMG. Also in the Court keeping an eye on proceedings was Mr Ken Green, FMG’s native title lawyer, who famously proclaimed that FMG is ready and willing to employ ‘aggressive strategies’, including a ‘barrage’ of litigation to secure the execution of land access agreements with non-compliant traditional owners.
If the Yindjibarndi are successful in the application to the Court, the two Applicants who support FMG, will be removed from the Applicant, and so the scene will be set for a decisive change in Yindjibarndi fortunes, as they look to the future. A favourable decision by the Court will finally empower the Yindjibarndi People to:
- conclude an Agreement with Rio Tinto and put in place the cultural, social and economic development programs so sorely needed in the Yindjibarndi community;
- re-confirm YAC as the agent of the Yindjibarndi #1 Claim so that the newly authorised Applicant and the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation can act in unison in matters concerning the native title rights of the Yindjibarndi People;
- move for exclusive possession determination of the Yindjibarndi #1 Claim;
- and, if exclusive possession native title is granted, pursue FMG for the full compensation they owe the Yindjibarndi People for the social and cultural damage they have done to Ganyjingarringunha—without consent.