The fight against Adani steps up a notch 

Wangan and Jagalingou people protest in Brisbane in 2015 against the proposed Adani coalmine in the Galilee Basin.

The federal Labor Party decided on March 21 to tip the scales dramatically in favour of Adani’s $22 billion coalmine in Queensland when it agreed to support the Coalition’s bid to weaken native title in favour of the corporations.

Dubbed the “Adani bill”, the changes will allow corporations, such as Adani, to reach an agreement with just some, rather than all, native title holders, flouting the original intent of the law. It means the fight being waged by the Galilee Basin’s traditional owners, the Wangan and Jagalingou (W&J), against the coalmine, for which Adani has not secured a land use agreement, will be that much harder. 

“Labor has lined up with the government to wind back our rights — and their own commitment to land rights,” said Adrian Burragubba, spokesperson for the Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners Council. “They have swallowed the arguments of the mining and agricultural lobby that there is a crisis that needs an urgent response.”

He went on to dispute the argument that federal Attorney-General George Brandis’s changes are “small” and “technical”. “The consequences of this bill are profound and adverse, affecting not just us, but Aboriginal people around the country and future generations,” Burragubba said.

“By pushing this bill through, The Coalition and Labor are attacking the integrity of our decision making, and our rights to self-determination.

“Aboriginal people should be able to say ‘no’ to destruction of our country and heritage. The Senate report is inadequate in dealing with the real intent and failures of the bill, and cuts off genuine Native Title Act reform.”

The long-running battle to stop the Adani coalmine is gaining momentum.

A new #StopAdani coalition warned on March 21 that the Queensland and federal governments will face a “Franklin-dam style” protest campaign if they approve the promised conditional $1 billion loan from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility to build a railway to transport the coal from the Galilee Basin in central Queensland to the port at Abbot Point.

The new protest coalition is also highlighting the lack of agreement from the traditional owners.

The W&J people said: “The scale of this mine means it would have devastating impacts on our native title, ancestral lands and waters, our totemic plants and animals, and our environmental and cultural heritage.

“It would pollute and drain billions of litres of groundwater, and obliterate important springs systems. It would potentially wipe out threatened and endangered species. It would literally leave a huge black hole, monumental in proportions, where there were once our homelands. These effects are irreversible. Our land will be ‘disappeared’.”

The new environmental coalition is highlighting the climate change risks, including the devastating impact on the Great Barrier Reef during and after construction, as well as coal dust and particulate pollution as key reasons for why the mine should not go ahead, nor the loan approved.

Former leader of the Greens Bob Brown, environmental advocate Geoffrey Cousins, authors Richard Flanagan and Tim Winton, Telstra chair John Mullen, banker Mark Burrows and cricket giants Ian and Greg Chappell are among 90 high-profile Australians who signed a letter to Adani Group chairperson Gautam Adani on March 16 requesting he invest instead in renewables.

Adani claims its 45-kilometre Carmichael mine, with 6 open pits and underground workings, would provide a permanent work force of 4000 people. Brown and Cousins disputed this and Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s claim that Adani would provide much needed jobs, saying that “renewables would create 1 million jobs by mid century”.

“The Prime Minister and the Queensland Premier say that this is a jobs bonanza. This is a lie. If they approve the mine they will be putting into doubt the world heritage listing for Great Barrier Reef ... Consider what would happen if we lost the listing — so many jobs will go.”

In 2013, Beyond Zero Emissions’ 10-year transition plan to shift from fossil fuels to renewables estimated that the combination of wind and concentrated solar thermal would create 80,000 jobs in the construction phase and 45,000 during its operation and maintenance. It also estimated that there could be an additional 30,000 jobs in manufacturing if half the plants were made in Australia.

Cousins recently visited India to talk to indigenous communities impacted by Adani’s operations. He heard about and saw Adani’s “reckless history” of non-compliance with the law and questioned why Australian governments think it would behave differently in Australia.

Dr Vaishali Patil from the Konkan Coast region of Maharashtra, India, confirmed this negligence in a letter to opponents of the mine.

Patil, who will join in the #StopAdani roadshow, has been campaigning against the devastating impact of coal on the poorest and most marginalised people in India.

“This work has brought me face-face with many of the world’s worst coal companies. At the top of that list is mining giant Adani. The damage that this company has done to our people and precious environment can’t be overstated,” she said on March 5.

“Local fishing communities unable to access their fishing grounds; vast quantities of coal spilled into our oceans and not cleaned up for years, devastating local tourism, beaches and marine life; mass destruction of mangroves, which play a vital role in purifying our water.

“But it doesn’t end there. Adani has used bribery and intimidation to silence opposition to their plans, they’ve employed child labour, underpaid workers and in some cases not paid them at all. Workers have died from accidents in their coal plants, not to mention the more than 120,000 Indians who die from coal pollution every year.

“And now they want to build one of the world’s largest coal mines in your beautiful country so that they can ship more dirty coal over to my country.

Adanis coal is devastating India and it will devastate Australia too. The last thing we need is more of it.”

Patil said Adani will only be stopped by a “powerful community-led movement”.

The W&J people need to be front and centre of this movement. Murrawah Johnson, a youth spokesperson for the W&J Traditional Owners Council, said while the major parties have given Adani a free kick, Indigenous people will continue to fight for country.

“We are meeting with the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights … [and] are continuing to pursue Adani’s fake land use agreement in the courts.”

“Adani believes its mine will go ahead, because our political leaders keep telling them they’ll remove all the obstacles in their way.”

But, as Burragubba said, the Traditional Owners will never accept Adani’s “offers” or “shut up money”.

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