29/04/2016 - 15:23

YAC old guard regains control

29/04/2016 - 15:23

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A long-running dispute involving the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation and Fortescue Metals Group is set to continue after YAC members re-elected a bloc of directors who had recently been replaced by a court-appointed receiver.

YAC chief executive Michael Woodley.

A long-running dispute involving the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation and Fortescue Metals Group is set to continue after YAC members re-elected a bloc of directors who had recently been replaced by a court-appointed receiver.

The directors were elected at a special general meeting of YAC members, which was called after the Supreme Court ruled last month that YAC did not have any properly elected directors.

The meeting in Roebourne was overseen by Registrar of Indigenous Corporations, Anthony Beven, while the Supreme Court also put a receiver in charge of the corporation after acknowledging shortcomings in the way it had been managed.

The court rulings were seen as a big win for the Wirlu-Murra Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation, a breakaway group backed by Fortescue.

Wirlu-murra members had been hoping to take control of YAC at the general meeting but instead suffered a resounding defeat.

There were 27 nominations for the 12 board vacancies, and all of those positions were filled by the YAC bloc, led by new chair Lyn Cheedy.

The registrar said more than 250 of YAC’s 424 members attended the meeting in person, while a large number participated through a proxy.

Wirlu-murra spokesperson John Sandy said it was hard to understand the outcome.

“To say that we are disappointed is an understatement,” he said.

“We are still scratching our heads about what happened.

“There was a growing sentiment within our community that it was time for change, but somehow we have ended up with the same people in charge as before.”

YAC chief executive Michael Woodley said the vote showed a majority of Yindjibarndi people opposed the Wirlu-murra push.

“The vote speaks for itself,” Mr Woodley told Business News.

“It was an extraordinary outcome.

“It sends a clear message they have no faith or confidence in those Wirlu-murra nominees.”

Mr Woodley said YAC would continue seeking native title over land that covers Fortescue’s Firetail mine.

“We will continue with our focus, first and foremost to win full and exclusive rights to native title in our country,”” he said.

“We also maintain the Yindjibarndi stance on engaging with mining companies, that a fair and just agreement can be reached for the benefit of all Yindjibarndi members.

“You want the industry standard, in terms of what other mining groups are paying the traditional owner groups.”

That is bad news for Fortescue, which has often traded blows with Mr Woodley after the two failed to reach agreement on a land use agreement.

Mr Woodley said he was dismayed by the Wirlu-murra campaign.

“I’m still stunned by the fact Wirlu-murra can operate to try and bring down another corporation,” he said.

“Although we have similar members, it doesn’t give them the right to do that.”

Fortescue chief executive Nev Power indicated he still wanted to see changes at YAC.

“Fortescue applauds the efforts of the Wirlu-Murra Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation to ensure their native title prescribed body corporate operates accountably and democratically,” he said.

“Given the previous serious discrepancies identified in the way that organisation (i.e. YAC) was managed, highlighted by (Supreme Court) Judge Le Miere, it is critical that the highest standards of corporate governance are now put in place.”

While the special general meeting has resolved control of YAC for now, future control could be affected by a membership review.

The Registrar plans to issue a compliance notice to each of the new directors, requiring the corporation to hold its next AGM prior to the end of November and to finalise all outstanding applications for membership by June 30.

YAC and its directors will be required to provide applicants that are refused membership with reasons for the refusal by June 30.

These steps follow allegations that memberships were granted or refused based on the affiliations of Yindjibarndi people.

Meanwhile, Fortescue believes its track record in indigenous contracting demonstrates its tangible achievements.

Since 2011, the iron ore miner has awarded 237 contracts or subcontracts to 98 Aboriginal businesses totalling $1.8 billion.

Nearly 50 per cent of the Aboriginal businesses are owned by Pilbara traditional owners.

Wirlu-murra’s contracting arm has been one of the big winners from Fortescue’s strategy, and that is likely to continue.

“The Yindjibarndi entities with whom Fortescue contracts are managed for the benefit of all Yindjibarndi people,” Mr Power said.

“Fortescue and our Yindjibarndi contracting partners actively encourage all Yindjibarndi people to engage in work and training with us.”

YAC established its own contracting arm in 2013 after signing a land use agreement with Rio Tinto, and so far it has secured some small contracts with Rio but none with Fortescue.

In related news, attempts by another Aboriginal group to lodge a native title claim that overlapped YAC’s long-standing claim has been struck out.

Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation is the prescribed body corporate for the Eastern Guruma people.

In late December it lodged a claim for native title over 700 square kilometres of Pilbara land that overlapped about a quarter of YAC’s claim.

Last month, Justice Stephen Rares accepted YAC’s application for the claim to be struck out.

Wintawari Guruma director Tony Bevan told Business News the group was still waiting on the written judgement before considering whether there were grounds for appeal.

 

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