SYDNEY – Mining magnate Andrew Forrest has used laws designed to protect indigenous land rights to stop prospectors searching for minerals on his West Australian cattle farms, angering both traditional Aboriginal landowners and mining community members.
While tensions between the competing interests of indigenous landholders, pastoral leaseholders and miners on government-controlled land are common, Forrest’s approach represents one of the first known examples of a non-Aboriginal successfully using rights afforded to indigenous people to their own advantage.
Native title is a legal doctrine in Australia that recognises indigenous rights to certain parcels of land. Forrest’s use of it is not illegal, but it adds to the fractious relationship he has with some indigenous groups. Different groups have raised concerns over Forrest’s cattle interests and have battled over land rights with the company he founded and chairs – Fortescue Metals Group (FMG.AX), the world’s fourth biggest iron ore miner.
A spokeswoman for Forrest said the issue was about complying with mining regulations. “It is neither a matter of using native title law nor objecting to prospecting,” said the spokeswoman.
She said there was support for Forrest’s position within the Thalanyji people who hold native title under some of his cattle stations. The farms operated with the utmost respect for the environment, she added.
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