Members of a traditional owners council in Australia have accused the national government of pandering to the interests of the Indian mining conglomerate Adani, and the mining industry in general, in its attempts to pass amendments to the country’s Native Title Act.
Adani plans to build a massive coal mine in the Galilee Basin in Central Queensland.
Adani’s planned Carmichael mine – which would be the largest coal mine in Australia, and one of the largest in the world – would be sited on Wangan and Jagalingou traditional lands. There would be six open-cut pits and up to five underground mines.
The Wangan and Jagalingou traditional owners say the mine would destroy their ancestral homelands and waters, the cultural landscape, and their heritage.
Yesterday, Australia’s attorney-general George Brandis announced that he would introduce changes to the Native Title Act, which established a framework for the protection and recognition of native title.
The Act set up processes to determine where native title exists and provide compensation where that title is impaired or extinguished. It regulates the way activities impacting upon native title may be undertaken.
Brandis was reacting to a recent decision taken by the federal court in relation to an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) in Western Australia.
The Noongar ruling renders any ILUA agreement that does not have the signed approval of every person in a native title claim invalid. Previously, the signature of the majority in a claim had been accepted.
The Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners Council has denounced the Adani land use agreement as a sham, and is asking the federal court to strike it out.
The spokesman for the council, Adrian Burragubba, said: “The registration of Adani’s sham land use agreement is not being held up because of the decision in Western Australia this month. It’s being challenged by us because it was engineered through rent-a-crowd, deceit, and dishonest tactics.
“The document Adani is trying to pass off as an indigenous land use agreement with our people is illegitimate.
“We will continue our action in the federal court to have it struck out, regardless of what dodgy deals are tried on in Canberra to prevent justice.”
Wangan and Jagalingou youth leader and council spokeswoman Murrawah Johnson said: “In April last year, there was a meeting organised and paid for by Adani, at a cost estimated to be in excess of half a million dollars. Adani paid for Aboriginal people to attend who had never claimed native title on Wangan and Jagalingou traditional country.
“There were hundreds of people who aren’t direct descendants of our Wangan and Jagalingou ancestors in attendance, to sign up to an ILUA.”
Burragubba and Murrawah Johnson, meeting with the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, Michel Forst.
Burragubba says the proposed amendments to the Native Title Act are “rushed and ill-considered” and a “con on the public”.
He says the traditional owners council is calling on the Labour Party “not to roll over and support this unjust and premature manoeuvre by the government”. The amendments, he says, are designed “to squash our rights and stop us from striking out their sham agreement in court”.
Burragubba accused the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, of being in the pocket of Adani and the mining lobby.
“Turnbull is blind to indigenous communities’ right to say ‘no’ to projects that will destroy our lands, waters, and culture. These amendments, designed to head off our legal actions because Adani was losing, won’t stop us.”
He added: “As always, the Liberal and National parties will look for any means to override our rights and pander to their mates in the resources sector. They announced fast-tracked, knee-jerk amendments to the Native Title Act in an attempt to grease the wheels for the controversial Carmichael mine proposal, over our persistent objections and our rights.”
Murrawah Johnson said: “We have maintained all along that Adani does not have the consent of the rightful traditional owners. Our traditional owners group have rejected an ILUA with Adani three times.
“We will defeat Adani’s fake ILUA and continue to fight for our land and culture until the company and governments respect our rights and abandon this disastrous proposal.”
Burragubba says the Native Title system needs an overhaul “for failing to give due consideration to the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people”.
Any reform, he says, should involve full consultation, “not occur in a piecemeal and chaotic way because of a panic generated by the mining industry”.
Lawyer Colin Hardie says that Adani and the mining industry are “trying to manufacture a sense of crisis around the federal court’s Noongar decision, and appear desperate to force the federal government to rush through changes to the Native Title Act to suit their interests”.
He said the Turnbull government should make it clear that there is no crisis or urgency, and leave the National Native Title Tribunal to do its job of assessing the ramifications of the federal court decision, which, Hardie says, appear to be minimal.
“The native title system already works in favour of the interests of mining companies and governments bent on enabling resource projects over traditional owners who value their traditional relationship with the land and oppose its destruction in return for cash and promises of future jobs.
“If the Native Title Act is to be reformed it should occur in a considered manner after careful consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples whose land rights could be adversely impacted.”
The Queensland government last year declared the Carmichael mine project to be “critical infrastructure”. The project’s status was raised to that of an operation the state government considers to be essential to Queensland’s economic and community well-being.
The state government still has to approve a water licence and minor applications for power and road access before construction can start.
Adani says it hopes work on the mine will start in the first half of this year.
Preliminary approval has reportedly been given for a Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund (NAIF) loan to Adani of up to AUD 1 billion to help fund a rail link to the planned mine. The cost of the rail link has been estimated at AUD$2.2 billion (about US$1.69 billion).
Environmentalists say that that Adani’s mine, rail, and port project is disastrous for the Great Barrier Reef, which is already in a critical condition because of bleaching caused by rising water temperatures.
The potential effects on groundwater, and the carbon emissions resulting from the Carmichael mine are other major concerns.
The Queensland government continues to cite the need for jobs as justification for its support of the Adani project and other industrial expansion in the state.
However, there are serious doubts about the mine’s financial viability and whether it will bring any regional or national economic benefits.
Burragubba says Adani has never had the consent of the Wangan and Jagalingou traditional owners for the proposed Carmichael mine, and it never will.
Allegations against Adani
In a briefing published in 2014, Greenpeace said that, in India, Adani has a “long history of environmental destruction, regulatory non-compliance and other illegal activity, including bribery of government officials, unauthorised construction, and tax evasion”.
GetUp! Australia released a video about Adani Enterprises, in which it also alleges that the company has been involved in bribery, corruption, and illegal construction, and has destroyed protected environments.
In the video, GetUp! says that an investigation by the Karnataka anti-corruption ombudsman discovered that Adani was involved in large-scale illegal exports of iron ore.
Adani is also accused of illegally destroying protected mangroves when constructing its Mundra port. The Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests reported that large areas of mangrove were filled with dredge spoil, 75 hectares of mangroves were destroyed in a conservation area, and dredging infrastructure blocked the water supply to large areas of mangroves, drying them up and killing them.
An investigative committee reported that Adani was “less than serious” about complying with the environmental conditions placed on the approval for the port. They inadequately managed the release of fly ash, and failed to take even basic steps to prevent salinity groundwater from leaking into the local environment.
The committee also said Adani had built an airstrip and aerodrome without environmental approval.
GetUp! Australia has also published a report about Adani, “The Adani Files“, which includes evidence from hundreds of court documents collated by Environmental Justice Australia and Earthjustice.
- In 2011 an unseaworthy coal ship chartered by Adani Enterprises sank off the coast of Mumbai, spilling more than 60,000 tonnes of coal and a massive amount of oil into the ocean. Adani did nothing to clean up the pollution for five years. The spill destroyed mangroves, polluted beaches, and seriously damaged Mumbai’s marine life and tourism industry.
- Adani’s Australian chief executive officer, Jeyakumar Janakaraj, was the director of operations at the Konkola Copper Mines in Zambia when, in 2010, acidic, metal-laden water was discharged into the Kafue River. Water used for cooking, cleaning, and bathing was poisoned. The company pleaded guilty to criminal charges for pollution and failure to report the incident.
- There have been deaths, illness, and injuries at Adani workplaces. Reports show that Adani has exploited and underpaid its workforce and used child labour.
- Adani uses tax havens in the Cayman Islands to hide assets and revenue. Thirteen of the 26 Adani subsidiaries registered in Australia are ultimately owned in the Cayman Islands.
- In 2011, the Karnataka state ombudsman found that Adani Enterprises bribed police, politicians, customs officials, and others to facilitate and hide illegal exports of 7.7 million tonnes of iron ore.
This article was updated on 15/2/2017.
Further update: A 34-page report entitled The Adani Brief was published by Environmental Justice Australia on February 15, 2017.
Environmental Justice Australia suggests in its briefing that governments and private stakeholders should give serious consideration to the Adani Group’s global legal compliance record, “which demonstrates numerous serious breaches with adverse consequences for the environment and local people” and “the possibility that if this track record continues in Australia, then supporting the Adani Group’s Carmichael Mine and the Abbot Point Port may expose governments and private stakeholders to reputational and financial risks”.
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