Twiggy steps in to save Minderoo

02 Mar, 2015 06:00 AM
We support mining but would like to be assured the land will be returned to the original condition

MINING magnate Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest will take personal control of numerous exploration applications over his Pilbara pastoral station in an apparent bid to prevent rivals digging up his childhood home.

The imminent creation of a new Forrest company to hold the exploration rights to Minderoo, located south-east of Onslow, threatens to prolong the mining billionaire's controversial practice of quarantining the land from genuine exploration.

Mr Forrest has used the company he founded, Fortescue Metals Group, and companies controlled by friends and employees to control the exploration rights to Minderoo ever since he purchased the station at auction in 2009. Under financial stress, Andrew's father, Don, sold the 230,000-hectare Minderoo station in 1998. It had been in the family since 1878.

Little, if any, ground-disturbing work has been conducted on that tenure since 2009 despite the land being in demand by the broader exploration sector.

Mr Forrest's tactics have been questioned by junior explorers, and the Western Australian government, as it appears to undermine the spirit of the Mining Act which is to encourage exploration and mining. He has denied any wrongdoing.

A company called Pilbara Property Management, run by Grant Vernon, chief operating officer of the Forrest family's private commercial and philanthropic organisations, recently applied to explore 1350 square kilometres of Minderoo.

Mr Vernon told The Australian Financial Review there was no intention to hide Mr Forrest's association with the latest exploration applications over Minderoo.

"The pegging of the tenements was done in consultation with Andrew," Mr Vernon said. "There was never any intention to disguise my obvious association with Andrew or Minderoo."

Mr Vernon said they were going to change the structures that hold the exploration permits to make the link to Mr Forrest clearer.

"Our position is that we support mining but we would like to be assured the land will be returned to the original condition."

The Minderoo tenements appear likely to be tipped into the new Forrest vehicle which will advertise itself as a new exploration venture with interests across Australia. If Mr Forrest explores and mines the Minderoo tenure in earnest, it would signal an abrupt change in attitude for the billionaire, who has otherwise spent years protecting the station from miners.

In one legal tussle aimed at preventing an exploration permit being issued over parts of Minderoo, Mr Forrest's lawyers argued that the impact on the pastoral operations would include: dust from drilling; stress to cattle reducing carcass values and birth rates; and potential contamination of the Ashburton River aquifer.

The Tony Sage-chaired uranium explorer, Cauldron Energy, is one of the few companies to have successfully applied for exploration rights over parts of Minderoo before a company with links to Mr Forrest could lodge its own applications.



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