Australian Aboriginal clans issued a challenge to the planned development of a major coal mine on their ancestral land in the Queensland region on Thursday, according to media reports. The clash is set to be the biggest case in recent history involving Australia’s native title law.
Representatives from the Wangan and Jagalingou people have formally rejected an agreement, which allowed Indian mining firm Adani develop its $16 billion Carmichael mine in the Galilee basin region, ABC Australia reported.
Adani has called upon the national native title tribunal to quash the objection, requesting a lease from the state government for the mine rights. A group of environmentalists, ecological experts and economists are also set to challenge the planned mine in Queensland’s land and environmental court next week.
Wangan and Jagalingou elder Adrian Burragubba reportedly wrote to the Queensland premier to warn that the mine would “tear the heart out of our country.” He told the Guardian that the mine threatened the Aboriginals’ way of life. “The mine will destroy the natural environment, it will damage our laws and customs beyond repair and further dispossess our people.
“If the Queensland government succumbs to pressure from companies like Adani, there’s no hope for Aboriginal people. All our rights will be overridden.”
However, Adani said that the statements made by the elder were unauthorized, and that the Aboriginal groups had been in talks with the company. "Adani does not believe that the W&J [Wangan and Jagalingou] don't want this mine as the W&J have been and continue to be actively involved in negotiations around delivery of the mine on terms acceptable to the W&J," a spokesman said, according to the Business Spectator. Adani also said it was aware of at least one other incident where an individual had made comments that were not in line with the goals of the Wangan and Jagalingou authorities.
Burragubba told The Australian that Adani’s comments were deeply offensive, and that he spoke on behalf of the Wangan and Jagalingou people. "I am from there - I'm from nowhere else," he said.
"It's an insult to me, because what they're doing is undermining our decision-making process.
"The decision has been made - no means no."
The Carmichael mine is set to become one of the biggest in the world, which would produce an estimated 60 million tons of coal a year. The Australian government projects that it would add 10,000 jobs to the country.
The Wangan and Jagalingou people had filed an application for native title recognition in 2004, for an area that would cover around 30,000 sq. km. (11, 583 sq. miles) in central Queensland. The application is under review, but mining companies are still required to get the authorization of the Aboriginal groups for land use.
The Indian mining firm has also been criticized by Australian environmental groups for its plans to expand a coal port in Queensland, which environmental groups say would cause major damage to the Great Barrier Reef. U.S. banking companies including Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase have vowed not to fund the port expansion project.
Adani’s business practices in India have also been criticized, especially its development of the country's largest private port in the town of Mundra in the western state of Gujarat. Environmental group Greenpeace said the project caused the destruction of mangroves and ecosystems, and “severely disrupted” the lives of local fishermen.