Words || Joel Webber
With an estimated worth of AUD$21 billion, a proposed mine for central Queensland will be the largest mining project ever undertaken in Australia. Located west of Rockhampton in the Galilee Basin, the colossal mine will be built by the Adani Group and include six open pits and five underground mines.
Adani is one of India’s largest power companies, and controls the distribution of resources and energy to hundreds of millions of people across the Asia-Pacific region. Led by billionaire Gautam Adani (who has an estimated worth of over $5 billion), it makes perfect sense that the Australian government is doing their best to provide Adani with a clear passage for the construction of the mine and subsequent destruction of the traditional homelands of the indigenous peoples who currently reside there.
The Wangan and Jagalingou people have resided upon these ancestral lands for tens of thousands of years. The lands are a source of identity, spirituality, community and a life source. Australia’s history of colonial violence and white oppression has taught us the destructive consequences of removing indigenous peoples from their homelands and kinship ties. Resulting in substance and alcohol abuse, higher levels of mental illness, unemployment and an average life expectancy around ten years lower than that of their white counterparts, this removal from the land condemns First Nation peoples to a life fighting institutionalised racism.
Adani claims that they “take [their] responsibility towards contributing to the betterment of the society very seriously.” However, the company has a track record of dodgy deals and systematic corruption that has directly resulted in the degradation of the environment and the people living in the surrounding communities of their projects. Indian authorities have launched investigations into multiple corruption and financial crime allegations that Adani faces. Last year, Adani was fined the equivalent of nearly $1 million AUD for an oil spill that occurred off the coast of Mumbai, where a ship carrying 60,000 tonnes of Adani’s coal started belching coal, oil and diesel into the ocean. Indian authorities found that it was a preventable spill and the company had acted inadequately in the face of environmental devastation.
Adani states that it would be ethically irresponsible of them not to mine the coal in the Galilee Basin because extracting coal from other, less reliable geographies, would pollute the atmosphere at an increased level. Experts worldwide dispute this claim, making the company’s weak attempt at demonstrating corporate responsibility laughable.
The Adani Group’s current coal port in Abbott Point will see a dramatic increase in boat traffic to export the extra 60 million tonnes of coal it is projected the mine will produce annually. Given Adani’s dubious background in environmental and social responsibility, there is little doubt of the potential for the Wangan and Jagalingou (W&J) mobs to be exploited by the company.
W&J Campaign manager Anthony Esposito raised concerns that the project is not economically viable for Adani as they do not have the capital to get the project underway. Adani is seeking a $1 billion loan from the federal government to fund a 400km stretch of rail line. The railway would link the mine with Abbott Point Port and accelerate the extraction and exportation process. The grant is being considered under the North Australian Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) and has come under intense fire from organisations such as Greenpeace, particularly since Freedom of Information requests as to the location and dates of the NAIF’s board meetings have been rejected.
Unsurprisingly, these meetings noticeably exclude direct dialogue with the Aboriginal communities their decisions affect.
In recent weeks, a variety of NGOs have partnered with social justice lobby group GetUp to escalate the campaign against Adani, a fight that has continued since the project was first announced in 2010 by former Queensland Premier Anna Bligh. In targeting 13 marginal coalition seats across Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, the group aims to destabilise Liberal political positions. Such destabilisation would advance the Foundation’s primary goal of protecting the Galilee Basin and Great Barrier Reef but also provide a platform for indigenous people to reassert their ownership of the land.
The Liberal government’s prioritisation of big business and profits undercuts black rights and a hundred years of Australian civil rights campaigning and legislation. A Federal Court decision in early February has nullified a multitude of native title agreements across Australia and further complicated the legal understanding of consent and land rights. Known as the ‘McGlade decision’, the court’s conclusion was that every recognised claimant must approve of the mob’s native title claim otherwise it will be rendered invalid. The ruling is significant because Adani were set to participate in a scheduled registration of critical land use agreement with the traditional custodians of the Galilee Basin. The agreement vaguely stipulated that in exchange for the consent to mine on traditional land, Adani would provide jobs, training and business support for the indigenous clans who signed the deal. However, the Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners Council has labelled the deal deceptive, and has decried it for using illegitimate documents.
On face value the deal appears advantageous to the Aboriginal communities. Many people argue that being provided with the promised jobs and training could be a positive opportunity for communities facing low socio-economic barriers.
But Aboriginal people should not have to sacrifice their lands, their history and their identity to be provided with jobs, training and fundamental human rights. Since the proclamation of ‘terra nullius’, our nation’s First People have been continually erased from society, and our government must not only assert the rights of indigenous peoples, but plough forward on a path of reconciliation and healing. The commodification and destruction of their ancestral lands does no such thing.
Forecasted to generate 10,000 jobs and inject $16 billion into the Australian economy, it’s easy to see why the mine has Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberals frothing at the mouth. The ‘jobs and growth’ speeches practically write themselves. But at the cost of further erasing the presence of First Nations peoples’ from their country, the potential for environmental disaster on the Barrier Reef, and the furthering of fossil fuel-driven climate change, the project can never be justified and should not be legally feasible. It’s time we stood up for the most disadvantaged in our society and recognise that this always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.