Western Australia’s policy to fast-track mine licence approvals means Fortescue Metals will not have to consult with native-title holders in the Pilbara.

Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) has won the right not to interact with Yindjibarndi owners during exploration on a parcel of land in the state’s north, after the National Native Title Tribunal ruled its application should be ‘expedited’.

Yindjibarndi representatives had been pushing for the project to be moved into the alternative “right-to-negotiate” process, which would subject the company to a higher level of heritage protection responsibilities during exploration.

The fast tracking of licences and exploration works against the ground gained for indigenous rights, according to Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation (YAC) chief Michael Woodley.

“This is a discriminating process that grants tenements to mining companies,” Mr Woodley said.

“It doesn’t favour indigenous rights and interests.”

The Native Title Tribunal’s ruling applies only to the exploration phase of the project, with any subsequent works still requiring the all regular protections and consultation.

Some say the legal battles between YAC and FMG show the disconnection that runs throughout the resource exploration sector. Others have observed that the case brought by YAC was the most comprehensive argument yet raised by a native title group, but still failed to go their way.

In her final ruling, tribunal president Raelene Webb, QC, said; “Although the native title party’s evidence and the documents attached to and referred to in the contentions, total over 1000 pages, much of it is directed to matters which appear to have no, or limited, relevance.”

“Large volumes of material are provided without an apparent focus on the task at hand.”

Much of the extra material submitted by the YAC was in relation to previous court battles over consultation and exploration rights. It had been presented with the aim of showing the sour relationship between the two and the need for some middle ground to be found.

The FMG exploration program will be governed by a standard heritage agreement for the region, rather than the agreement preferred by the traditional owners of the land.