Billionaire mining magnate Andrew Forrest has relied on a series of controversial strategies to climb to the top of the resources pile.
It is not your ordinary after-school job.
It is the year 2000, and Daniel Kerr is under pressure from his mum to get part-time work. The 15-year-old schoolboy wouldn’t mind a few extra dollars given he needs a new set of wheels; he does, after all, have a habit of wearing out skateboards.
Kerr looks in the local paper, the Kalgoorlie Miner, and on the public noticeboard before he finds the perfect job. “Money for jam,” he thinks to himself.
An employer is looking for someone to go down to the local mines department once a week and hand-copy information that is lodged by explorers and miners. The job description might raise eyebrows for those living in major cities, but Kerr lives in the heart of Western Australia’s Goldfields region, where almost every job has a red-earth mineral tinge to it.
The teenager reckons he can squeeze in the couple of hours of work after school on a Wednesday, and he soon secures the job on a trial basis. He is given forms to fill in that require quite specific information, such as which companies have applied to the state’s mines department for an exemption to minimum expenditure requirements they must meet in order keep their exploration or mining leases.
It’s unclear why a 15-year-old was hired to do the task. It could simply be the case that in those days, the information was not available online and employing someone – anyone – to hand-copy information from a noticeboard at the Kalgoorlie office made more sense than sending a permanent employee to do it.
Who was Kerr working for? The timing of his employment and the information he passed on coincided with the rise of a secretive two-dollar company called Ajax Mining Nominees, supported by the Andrew Forrest-led Anaconda Nickel.
In 2000 and 2001, Ajax tried to seize almost every significant nickel tenement in the Goldfields region – without revealing the identity of those behind the plan – in one of the most brazen and, at times, vexatious mining company strategies in recent memory.
Over the next 15 years, the billionaire miner, philanthropist, indigenous jobs champion and one of the country’s most influential businessman, Andrew John Forrest, would use questionable means to control the mineral rights to mineral-rich WA.
The strategy would be refined for different purposes: sometimes it would be used to secure mineral deposits on the cheap; other times it would be used to block explorers from his Pilbara childhood home, and, ultimately, it would be used to build Fortescue Metals Group into one of the biggest holders of mineral rights in WA, without fully paying for the privilege.
MINERAL RIGHTS CONTROL
The Australian Financial Review has reported on Forrest’s tactics used to control mineral rights in WA in a series of investigations published since March 2012. This has been backed by documents obtained through Freedom of Information requests and detailed analysis of electronic data compiled by the state’s Department of Mines and Petroleum.
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