Rio, Pilbara traditional owners sign Australian-first native title agreement


Four native title groups in the Pilbara have signed Australia’s most comprehensive native title agreements with mining giant Rio Tinto.

The announcement is the latest in a series of moves from mining companies to find compromises between mining resources and protecting traditional land.

Yesterday Rio announced it has presented a reconciliation plan, developed in conjunction with Reconciliation Australia to Prime Minister Julia Gillard, as part of National Reconciliation Week.

The latest native title agreements have come from seven years of negotiations between the four groups and the miner.

Represented by the Yamatji Marpla Aboriginal Corporation (YMAC) are the Nyiyaparli, Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura groups, as well as the Kuruma and Marthudunera and Ngarlawangga.

Under the agreement, traditional Aboriginal owners in the Pilbara stand to receive more than $2 billion over 40 years.

The area involved in the agreement is approximately 70 000 square kilometres and includes about 40 existing mining operations and future Rio mines.

Under the agreement, the four native title groups have negotiated a range of economic and non-economic benefits including and an income stream from mining on their lands, training and job opportunities, access to contracts for services for Rio and support for environmental and heritage activities.

The agreement stipulates Rio Tinto’s workforce will include 14 per cent Aboriginal workers Aboriginal workers from the Pilbara.
If it doesn’t meet the employment target, Rio Tinto will be required to spend $200,000 a year to each of the groups on education scholarships.
It has also committed to supporting local indigenous business to a similar level and providing the entire workforce with cultural awareness training.

It also includes mining exclusion zones that recognise the importance of significant sites, as well as water holes and ecologically sensitive areas.

YMAC chief executive Simon Hawkins said the four Indigenous groups and Rio have worked hard to reach an agreement.

“The signing of these agreements is recognition of the professional way in which the parties have been able to work together to get the best outcomes,’ he said.

“Through the negotiations, the native title groups now have an established relationship with Rio Tinto that they can build for their future use.”

"It’s good for the Aboriginal community. It’s good for our business. It also happens to be the right thing to do,” Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief executive Sam Walsh said.
"This is of a huge scale, and it’s a huge opportunity for both the company and the Aboriginal groups. What we’re doing here will help set a new standard across Australia."

Hawkins said corporate governance and benefit management structures will underpin the implementation of the agreements.

It will include establishing four local Aboriginal corporations to manage the agreements for each group and a broader regional corporation to implement seven regional standards relating to Rio’s operations.

Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAS) will be signed later this year between the four native title groups, the mining company and the WA government.

Image: Rod Benson

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