Mining magnate Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest has added more fuel to the fire in the disagreement between his company and an Aboriginal community in the Pilbara.
Forrest has shared the immense social problems that exist in the community, where his company has offered the traditional land owners $10 million per year in infrastructure, education and employment.
The fallout from the debate saw Forrest being labelled ‘racist’ and dealing with death threats.
The founder of Foretescue Metals Group (FMG) grew up in the Pilbara region surrounded by indigenous people and started the Generation One campaign, which aims to bring indigenous and non-indigenous people together as one in one generation.
He recently stepped down as the chief executive of the company to concentrate on other endeavours, including projects to improve indigenous housing, employment and life expectancy.
One of the mantras of the billionaire is “give a man a fish, he’s fed for a day, teach a man to fish and he’s fed for life,” and he has stayed true to that belief in his offer of $500 000 signing fee, $4 million per year in cash and $6.5 million in housing, jobs, training and business assistance.
The Yindijibarndi people in the region have slammed the offer and say they want more cash in exchange for the estimated $280 billion worth of iron ore the company expects to extract over the next four decades.
But Forrest told the ABC’s Four Corners program on Sunday night that he has experienced the issues in the community of just over a thousand residents, with young girls propositioning men for sex for less than a dollar.
He said cash payments are akin to mining welfare and will not help the town of Roebourne which he says is currently in a state of “social breakdown.”
"We know what that does to communities and the heart of Fortescue, my own heart just can’t be part of that," he told the program.
"It’s easier to do it, but we won’t do it.
“If you want to join me on one evening after 11 o’clock at night and walk down the streets of Roebourne and have little girls come up to you and offer themselves for any type of service for the cost of a cigarette, then you know you’ve come to the end of the line.
"I’m not going to encourage with our cash that kind of behaviour."
But the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation says it will not change its stance on the issue, and is still demanding minimum 2.5 per cent of the royalties from the region.
"We’ve suffered for so long and the only way to get out of poverty, the only way to fix up some of our social problems, is to insist that these companies pay a fair deal," YAC chief executive Michael Woodley said.
During the initial fallout, the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation released a video of a meeting in Roebourne, claiming the company did not allow them to have their say, and the community was against the deal.
The mining company released a video in reply with its own version of events, claiming it was only a small minority who did not agree with the offer.
The Wirlu-Murra Yindjibarndi Corporation was formed when negotiations reached a standstill and the group, who support the company’s offer, called a meeting earlier this year to take over from YAC and finalise the deal.
Wirlu-Murra have also taken the fight to the Supreme Court, arguing for appointment as administrator on the issue.
Spokesman Vince Adams told the ABC the proposed deal was "not the best", something needs to be done.
Image: The Australian