Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest, Fortescue Metal Group CEO.MINING magnate Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest is using a highly controversial strategy to restrict mining on his recently purchased Pilbara cattle station, Uaroo, which involves having an employee hold the exploration rights.
Nanjing Night Net

The Australian Financial Review can reveal that late last year a company with no prior history of mineral exploration, Pilbara Property Management, applied for several exploration permits over two of the billionaire’s stations, Minderoo and Uaroo, south of Onslow.

Pilbara Property Management has one director, Grant Vernon, who also helps oversee the private business and philanthropic initiatives of the Fortescue Metals Group chairman’s company, Minderoo Group. Mr Vernon has no prior experience in exploration.

In a statement, a spokesman said: “Pilbara Property Management has complied with the requirements of the Mining Act and intends to meet all future requirements, including exploration for further development.”

Over the past five years, Mr Forrest has used companies run by friends or that he leads, such as Fortescue, to lodge exploration applications over his childhood Pilbara home, Minderoo, in order to prevent other miners from accessing it. The companies are arguably not considered “related” because of their different ownership structures, and therefore appear to represent a way that people can exploit mining laws by retaining mineral rights to a piece of land indefinitely.

The use of the strategy to protect his expanding cattle interests at Uaroo, which is south of Minderoo, is the first concrete example that he is willing to use the same strategy in other areas of the mineral-rich Pilbara, where there has traditionally been intense competition to explore for iron ore and uranium, among other minerals.

Mr Forrest has consistently denied any wrongdoing.

He has held the pastoral lease to Uaroo, and neighbouring Nanutarra, since about 2012, in what represented a significant investment into the beef-processing and export industry. Forrest-owned Harvey Beef says it processes 145,000 grass- and grain-fed animals each year, and employs about 300 people.

The mining magnate purchased the historic Forrest family station, Minderoo, at auction in 2009 after his father Don had sold it a decade earlier under financial stress.

Records show that Pilbara Property Management applied for exploration permits over Minderoo on December 9, 2014. It then applied for exploration applications at Uaroo on December 10 and December 31. It holds a mining licence on Minderoo, purchased from another company in April 2012; however, a spokesperson declined to comment on what, if any, mining had actually occurred.

Western Australian Minister for Mines, Bill Marmion, said the tenement applications complied with the Mining Act and were undergoing the usual grant process.

“Should any other explorer consider these are not legitimate applications, the act already provides avenues for objections,” Mr Marmion said.

A rival to Mr Forrest, the Tony Sage-chaired Cauldron Energy, was able to lodge several exploration applications over Minderoo in early December, shortly before Pilbara Property Management.

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