On one side of the country, the Western Australian Liberal government plans to shut down up to 150 Indigenous communities, supposedly because, according to premier Colin Barnett, they are “economically unviable”.
On the other, coal giant Adani and the Queensland government are trying to force the Wangan and Jagalingou people of central Queensland to sign an Indigenous land use agreement that will allow Adani to build one of the biggest coal mines in the world – the proposed Carmichael mine in the Galilee Basin – and reap billions of dollars in profit.
Both cases show that big business and government consider Aboriginal lives valueless: if they’re not just a regrettable drain on social welfare, they’re obstacles to the pursuit of profits. Both cases also highlight that Aboriginal connection to and control over the land is incompatible with Australian capitalism.
“They’ve always tried to separate our sovereignty from land tenure, but it’s one and the same. This is racism, and people need to call it out as that. Aboriginal people shouldn’t have to prove this connection”, Adrian Burragubba told Red Flag.
Burragubba is spokesperson for the Wangan and Jagalingou traditional owners and has been leading the fight against Adani and the Queensland government since 2011.
More than two decades of native title, first enacted in 1993, have proven just how meagre are the land rights afforded to Aboriginal people.
“In a nutshell, native title is racial discrimination”, Burragubba says. “These mining companies, they come to Aboriginal people and say, ‘Look, if you don’t sign this, you won’t get anything.’ It’s a form of blackmail.”
So far, the traditional owners have knocked back two proposed land use agreements from Adani, one in 2012 and another in 2014. Now the company is intensifying a legal offensive to have its obligation to secure an agreement scrapped entirely. That would then allow the state government to issue a lease for the mine.
Burragubba also calls out the state and federal governments for being complicit with Adani in the whole nefarious project. “In any government involved in mining, they’re just concerned about the royalties. The Labor Bligh government, they were just concerned about how much revenue they were going to get from the mine. That was the Newman government’s concern as well; they were throwing money at the company to develop the rail link – hundreds of millions of dollars promised to keep this thing going.”
The Carmichael mine presents myriad grave environmental concerns, among them the pollution of billions of litres of groundwater from the Great Artesian Basin and the potential extinction of many local flora and fauna.
According to Adani’s own estimates, the Carmichael mine will also contribute more than 1,400 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year – and that doesn’t include the emissions produced when the extracted coal is burned.
Despite the powerful alignment of forces they’re up against, the Wangan and Jagalingou people are determined to keep fighting. It’s not just for themselves. As Burragubba points out, “This mine will fracture the environment beyond repair.” That will be a problem for everyone.
[Carl Jackson is the National Union of Students environment officer. Sign the petition to stop Adani at communityrun.org/p/stopadani.]
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