Adani faces Aboriginal heritage scrutiny ahead of first coal exports

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Adani’s Australian unit Bravus Mining and Resources said it was providing the Queensland government information and assurances about its compliance with the legislated process for managing cultural heritage on the mining lease.

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“It is not unusual for the state to request information from us on any nature of works carried out under state legislation and the various approvals for the Carmichael mine,” a Bravus spokesperson said.

“We are happy to provide this information to demonstrate that the Carmichael project complies with the processes and regulations set out by the state.”

Ms Turbane and the other traditional owners said they feared the site’s cultural clearance was due to begin last week. However, neither Bravus nor the Queensland government confirmed whether the works had proceeded.

While opinions may differ among some members of Wangan and Jagalingou community about Adani’s planned clearance of the site – known as Zone 6, New Find 1 – the works have been unanimously approved by Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners’ Cultural Heritage Committee.

The committee, which operates under the Indigenous land-use agreement between Adani’s Australian unit Bravus and the Clermont Belyando native title applicants, appoints traditional owners to be involved in and supervise cultural heritage works on the site.

In 2016, the Wangan and Jagalingou people voted 294 to one in favour of the Carmichael project’s land-use agreement. Ms Turbane and another of the letter’s signatories, Adrian Burragubba, launched a Federal Court case arguing the process of checking whether the traditional owners who voted on the agreement had legitimate native title claims “lacked rigour”, but their appeal was dismissed in 2019.

The Adani mine has been the front line of a years-long battle between the coal mining industry and Australians fighting to reduce, not expand, Australia’s output of planet-heating fossil fuels. The mine and associated rail project, which together have created around 2600 jobs during construction, is “on track” to start exporting coal by the end of the calendar year, Bravus said.

The heritage concerns raised by Ms Turbane and the other traditional owners come amid a renewed focus on ties between the nation’s big mining companies and First Nations people, and their treatment of significant sites across the industry. A 16-month federal inquiry launched in the aftermath of Rio Tinto’s destruction of Western Australia’s 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge rock shelters has identified “serious deficiencies” in all states’ and territories’ Indigenous cultural heritage protections, and last week called on the federal government to legislate a national framework of new minimum standards.

The proposed new laws would give the Commonwealth the power to override decisions made under state-based frameworks, and empower traditional owners to enforce the Commonwealth protections through civil legal action.

Wangan and Jagalingou traditional owner Sharon McAvoy, who is not a registered native title applicant but was a signatory to the latest letters, said the group had not received a response from the Queensland government. But she believed Mr Crawford was interested in protecting Aboriginal heritage.

“Whether he acts on that interest, it hasn’t been seen yet,” she said.

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