Indigenous Communities Against Carmichael: Traditional owners in mine challenge

Originally published by CPA on 09/09/15.


Wangan and Jagalingou traditional owners of Queensland’s Galilee Basin are challenging Indian company Adani’s Carmichael mine proposal in the Federal Court. Traditional owner Adrian Burragubba said that the Wangan and Jagalingou people have added more named applicants to their native title claim.

A clear majority of our people said no to the Carmichael mine […] What part of our democracy do they not understand?

Abbot Point expansion project.
Abbot Point – The Carmichael project is facing major hurdles on several fronts.

“The Federal Court registered our new applicant, ending the fabricated myth that the majority of Wangan and Jagalingou do not oppose Adani’s mine,” he said. “This dispels the malicious disinformation spread by Adani, which has always tried to paint our community as terminally divided.

“In any group, there is a variety of views. But a clear majority of our people said no to the Carmichael mine. Twice. This decision is final. What part of our democracy do they not understand?

“Adani is seeking to divide and conquer – a tactic that mining companies have used against Indigenous peoples standing up for their rights the world over.

“Once and for all: My people do not consent to this mine and never will. We have consistently fought the Carmichael mine and will do so until this Indian mining giant packs its bags and goes home.

“Nor will we stand by while the media mouthpieces of Adani and the government insult us, representing us in story after story as simple, gullible patsies bought off by greenies. We are calling this out for what it is: a colonial attitude, and a repugnant mischaracterisation of us as a people. It is just the latest version of our dispossession. These misrepresentations do us serious harm.

“Let’s set the record straight, again, and for the last time. We are an independent group of traditional owners. We cannot be bought and sold by anyone, including outsiders like Adani. They offered us millions to consent to the ruination of our future.

“We rejected a land use agreement with them – twice. We told them to take their shut-up money and go home. We told them we autonomously determine our own interests. This means self-determination without dependency on mining.”

The Carmichael project is facing major hurdles on several fronts.

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt failed to follow the guidelines, meaning his approval was voided by the Federal Court earlier this month.

And potential financial backers have been pulling out, with London financier Standard Chartered the latest to withdraw support.

“The bank’s decision brings this disastrous project one step closer to its demise,” Mr Burragubba said. Standard Chartered is one of Britain’s largest investment banks and was understood to be a key advisor and financier to Adani in funding the $16.5 billion project. A senior, executive of Adani Mining told a Queensland court earlier this year that Standard Chartered had loaned $680 million to the project.

Earlier this year Mr Burragubba and others met with investment banks in the US, Asia and Europe to tell them traditional owners did not consent to the mine.

Standard Chartered’s decision follows news that the Commonwealth Bank has also withdrawn from the project. The Wangan and Jagalingou are calling on the remaining three of Australia’s big four banks – NAB, Westpac and ANZ – which have not ruled out funding, to confirm they will not support the Carmichael coal mine with finance.

Wangan and Jagalingou traditional owner Murrawah Johnson said the Queensland and federal governments should heed the message of the banks and recognise that Adani’s mine is at a “dead-end in history”.

“The future does not lie in the destruction of Aboriginal culture, the devastation of the environment, and the fuelling of dangerous climate change,” she said.

“It is time for Australian governments to chart a sensible course on energy and development, and to leave our lands and waters alone.”

Govt moves to change law

Meanwhile, the federal government has announced it will try to repeal a section of environmental law that allows activists to challenge major projects. The decision follows the Federal Court’s move to overturn approval of Adani’s $16.5 billion Carmichael coal mine in central Queensland after Environment Minister Greg Hunt failed to follow the law.

“This government will repeal section 487.2 of the EPBC (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation) Act which gives activists the standing to sabotage decisions,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Parliament.

Attorney-General George Brandis said the laws as they stood allowed “radical green activists to engage in vigilante litigation” to stop important job-creating projects. Senator Brandis called on Labor to support the bill.

In response to questions from the Koori Mail on whether the changes to the Act had the potential to affect Aboriginal people’s access to the courts, a spokesperson for Senator Brandis said it wasn’t a “matter for the department to respond”, but was for the Environment Department.

A spokesperson for Mr Hunt said there was no change to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act and that “the proposed amendments will not impact on the rights and interests of Indigenous communities affected by a project”.

However, the solicitor who won the case regarding the Carmichael approval, NSW Environmental Defenders Office chief solicitor Sue Higginson, said there was certainly potential to affect Indigenous people.

“If the repeal goes ahead, it will certainly put us back in a more historic place, where Aboriginal people will have to – like any person – prove that they have a special interest in a project,” she said.

“The law doesn’t recognise automatically that Aboriginal people have a special interest. So many Aboriginal people who identify with their own traditional lands do not have the more Western contemporary property interest in those lands, would arguably be in a more disadvantageous position than they are now with regards to access to the courts.”

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