A 100 per cent Pilbara Indigenous-owned company has raised concerns about their business being overlooked for a BHP contract on their own Traditional Country.

In December last year BHP provided a competitive opportunity for selected participants to make an Expression Of Interest (EOI) submission seeking participants to purchase up to an estimated 1.88Mt of crushed iron ore at the mine-gate of the Goldsworthy Northern Areas at Yarrie.

This EOI was not open to the public.

The work included screening and hauling of the iron ore, marketing, shipping and sales of the iron ore after the point of sale for exporting.

In the EOI document, BHP indicated its commitment to sustainably supporting its host communities in which they operate through delivering social value.

Nyamal loreman and Elder Barry Taylor told the National Indigenous Times that his family company, Cundaline Resources, was selected for the second phase of the EOI but ultimately did not receive the package of works.

He said that despite Nyamal having Native Title and Heritage agreements with BHP, of which he is party, Nyamal businesses “have never been awarded a package of works directly from BHP in the history of the Yarrie mining province”.

“Since the mine closure some 10 years ago BHP has awarded rehabilitation contract works to three non-Indigenous contractors and two Indigenous contractors that have no Native Title or Traditional connection to Nyamal lands,” he said.

“The Nyamal people have executed many Native Title agreements to allow mining development on our lands with minimal returns, compared to our neighbouring cousins such as Bunjima, Nyaparli and Innawonga that amass multi-million dollars of Royalties and business opportunities with the South Flank, Area C and Mt Newman mining operations, on top of their benefits from Rio Tinto mine sites.

“Nyamal lands have only junior miners that operate with significant constraints, mainly financial. This opportunity was a once in a life time positive contribution both economically and socially to the Nyamal people of the region, as well as the wider Pilbara region.”

Mr Taylor noted that “many other Nyamal businesses as well as the NAC have now missed out on this opportunity”.

He said Cundaline’s Indigenous and Local Spend in 2020/21 was over $2.57million in the region and 70 per cent of the company’s workforce is Indigenous.

“This was on the back of significant contracts supported by Fortescue Metals Group… without FMG support there would be minimum Traditional Owner Indigenous businesses in the Pilbara,” he said.

“Are the [Native Title] agreements worth the paper they are written on in terms of allowing Traditional Owners to compel those mining companies to develop and build capacity for Traditional Owner businesses? Native Title is all about access at the end of the day – there is no capacity building, no regional development, no employment opportunities.”

Mr Taylor alleged that such companies “talk about being more concerned with social values and social responsibility, more so than just going in and extracting and shipping the ore off, but will companies like BHP allow Traditional Owner groups the ability to become prosperous?”

“It’s like ‘we want you blackfellas to get ahead, but not ahead of us’. Do we need legislation to allocate a percentage of business to Traditional Owners groups on their own land?” Mr Taylor said.

The company whose bid for the mine gate sale was successful is also 100 per cent Indigenous-owned, but not local to the Pilbara.

“At the heart of a company’s social license to operate on our traditional lands is the question,” said Mr Taylor.

“Have they gone beyond the traditional measure of profit as return on investment, and considered shareholder value more broadly, including social dimensions?”

Mr Taylor said the agreement between BHP and the Western Australian government would need to be varied by new legislation “to allow the variation of the Mine Gate Sale to proceed at Yarrie”.

“If it is approved, we understand that BHP would then need come and meet with the Nyamal Prescribed Body Corporate (PBC), as Nyamal in 2019 had their Native Title Determination over their lands being awarded by the Federal Court,” he said.

“[This] will now mean BHP will be required by the Native Title Future Act to renegotiate the terms of the Native Title Agreement.”

A spokesperson for BHP told the National Indigenous Times that the mine gate sale project was “a unique opportunity to advance Indigenous procurement”.

“A preferred bidder has been identified for the Expressions of Interest process for the proposed Yarrie mine gate sale project,” they said.

“The mine gate sale project was identified as a unique opportunity to advance Indigenous procurement. BHP remains committed to ensuring the project demonstrates strong Traditional Owner engagement and economic participation should market conditions allow the project to proceed.”

It’s understood that a two-stage Expression of Interest was followed to provide an opportunity to determine the most suitable EOI bidder to undertake the project; with the expressed aim of conducting a fair assessment based on a range of criteria, including social value, capability, experience, and health and safety performance.

By Giovanni Torre