Per head of population, Australia is already one of the world’s worst carbon polluters. Despite this, our two major political parties – Labor and the Liberal-Nationals – are pushing ahead with the approval of a coal mine in Queensland that will exponentially increase our carbon emissions. The Carmichael mine, proposed by Indian mining giant Adani, will be the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere and annually produce more carbon emissions than a small country. In this special five-part New Matilda series, researchers from the University of Queensland, along with the Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners Council, and Australian Lawyers for Human Rights look at the ‘who, what, when, where and why’ of the proposed Adani Carmichael coal mine, it’s impact on Traditional Owners, the terrible economics that surround it, and our inexplicable march towards climate oblivion. This first introductory piece – the first in our series – is written by University of Queensland researchers Kristen Lyons, Morgan Brigg and John Quiggin.
The controversial proposed Adani Carmichael coalmine commands diverse media headlines, but the untold story is about Indigenous rights and, in particular, the resistance of Wangan and Jagalingou people to the expropriation of their lands.
There’s been much said about the controversial and politically divisive Adani Carmichael mine – the environmental costs of this ticking ‘carbon bomb’, Adani’s international track record of human rights abuses and environmental harm, lies about employment figures, the failed economics of the project, and the revolving door between Adani and government staffers and lobbyists.
Kicked off in a big way by the Newman Government, it’s a major headache for the Palaszczuk government who’s determined backing of the project has surprised and angered many of its supporters.
Labor’s decisive announcement, at the end of week one of the election campaign, to veto Adani’s requested $1 billion loan from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF), demonstrates the volatility of this mine as an election issue as the Premier maneuvers to reposition politically in the face of growing and electorally significant opposition to the opening of a new coal frontier.
Despite the wall of sound this highly controversial project has generated, a central piece of the story has been whited out of public and political debates: the rights of Aboriginal Traditional Owners as custodians and protectors of the land and waters and the effective resistance they have mounted.
In a special series of five articles, running over coming days, New Matilda will document the systemic way in which colonialism continues in a contemporary form, disguised by notions of Indigenous land use agreement. What is revealed is a relentless ‘land grab’ – a taking of Wangan and Jagalingou Country without consent, and designed to enable the Adani Carmichael mine to proceed.
The Queensland and Federal Governments, Adani, the native title regime and elites from the mining resources sector and mainstream media have all worked towards securing control of Wangan and Jagalingou Country, perpetuating a dispossession of Indigenous people that has been barely interrupted since the original acts of colonialism.
The Wangan and Jagalingou Country in question is the land necessary for Adani’s critical infrastructure – including a 2,750-hectare area over which native title rights must be ‘extinguished’ for Adani to convert the land to freehold tenure for the critical infrastructure for mine operations (such as an airstrip, workers’ village, washing plant and power).
The Adani project, including the proposed coal mine in the Galilee Basin in Central Western Queensland, its railway line and Abbott Point Port Terminal, runs ‘from pit to port’ across the country of four different Traditional Owner groups. What Adani and the Government seek is a surrender of the native title. What they have met with instead is resistance and a campaign built around a defence of the right to say no.
What differentiates the Wangan and Jagalingou is that they are the only Traditional Owner group, through the Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners Family Council (W&J), who have said no – on 3 occasions, at bone fide meetings of the Native Title Claim Group – to an Indigenous Land Use Agreement with Adani.
Wangan and Jagalingou people are pulled in multiple directions by competing interests, including the lure of monetary compensation and other promised benefits, but the Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners Council (W&J) have asserted sustained opposition to the proposed mine.
While Adani purchased the coal tenements for the mine site in 2010, it has secured the mining leases only because the Government overrode the Wangan and Jagalingou people’s refusal to sign agreements, and it has to date failed to secure control over the part of Wangan and Jagalingou country that they need for critical infrastructure.
Compulsion and not consent rule the process.
The W&J first refused an agreement with Adani in 2012 and launched their public campaign in 2015, and since then have sustained a complex legal campaign that is now coming to the pointy end, with an outstanding case to be heard in March 2018.
This represents the last line of legal defense against the mine, despite a legal and policy regime that is stacked against Aboriginal Australia.
The expedited changes to Native Title legislation by the Federal Government in June 2017 is just one of the latest examples of this – accidentally referred to by Senator Ian Macdonald as ‘the Adani bill’ during debate in the Senate – which would, Prime Minister Turnbull assured Gautam Adani, ‘fix’ the native title problem.
The W&J’s elected spokespeople, Adrian Burragubba and Murrawah Johnson, have been recognized with the award of national prizes. These include the Ngara Institute’s ‘Activist of the Year’ and the Bob Brown Foundation’s ‘Environmentalists of the Year’. And the W&J campaign has met with growing global recognition, reflecting the unrelenting resolve of Traditional Owners to protect their ancestral lands and waters, defiant in the face of establishment interests that want to see this mine proceed.
This five-part series will show what happens when Aboriginal people say no to mining on their Country. We describe how the Queensland Government, Adani and the Native Title regime disavow and punish Aboriginal people who refuse to play the compliant role assigned to them within State-led developmentalism. By saying no to Adani, W&J have been pitted as marginal and outsiders by elites with privileged access to media – elites including the Mineral Resource Councils, Government advocates and prominent academics and lobbyists.
The research for this special series is based on a collaboration between academics based at the University of Queensland, along with the Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners Council, and Australian Lawyers for Human Rights. Over the last 12 months our research, including interviews, as well as document, policy and media analysis, has revealed the array of actors who have lined up to back in Adani’s mine, sidelining, marginalizing and denying the rights of Traditional Owners.
The series will start with the Queensland Government’s role in the relentless pursuit of Wangan and Jagalingou Country for Adani’s mine. Its maneuvers represent this State’s continuation of settler-colonial violence towards Aboriginal people.