Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners continue to pursue Native Title rights of Gaililee Basin in Federal Court amidst the Queensland State government announcing its approval for construction to begin on the Adani Carmichael coal mine.
Jennifer Scherer

14 Jun 2019 - 4:39 PM  UPDATED 14 Jun 2019 - 8:07 PM

The Traditional Owners of the land in Queensland’s Gaililee Basin consider the Doongmabulla Springs essential to the culture. 

With some scientists saying the sacred site would face “extinction” under the coal mine plan, Wangan and Jagalingou Council spokesperson Adrian Burragubba is fighting for the government to uphold Native Title rights.

"The Queensland government continues to dispossess our people; it imperils our sacred sites with irreparable damage to the ecology; offers a pittance to our people – nothing to sustain our people into our future; and robs us of our Aboriginal heritage which is our lore and our custom and our culture,” Mr Burragubba told NITV News.

“This is another form of cultural genocide and it’s happening today. We don’t have to refer back to 1788.”

Federal Court challenge

With the Native TItle rights case still being heard in the Federal Court, Mr Burragubba said he considered the ‘green-light’ on Adani demonstrates a complete disregard to First Nations people.

“The question will always be, as First Nations people and not just Native Title holders, is sovereignty… who has absolute title of the land, just as Mabo said,” said Mr Burragubba.

“The First Nations people who stand up for our rights to have free, prior, informed consent and make decisions on our land regarding our sacred sites are not heard in this Native Title process…The government has used [it] to usurp our rights as the tribal sovereign people.

“We’ve declared our sovereignty on that land, we’ve displayed our totems the emu and the eel, that’s our dreaming, and we’ve staked our claim.”

The next step for the Wangan and Jagalingou people is to seek redress in the High Court and even from an International court.

“That will cover all of our human rights and our land rights,” said Mr Burragubba.

“If anyone wants to say, 'follow the rule of the law', in the Native Title legislation it said that if a project is not viable then they should not be granted a mining lease to begin with.

“Thermal coal is a sunset industry … this is not a viable project and the world is transitioning away from burning coal."

The fight for First Nations consent

Citing the McGlade decision of 2017, Mr Burragubba said the Wangan and Jagalingou people never agreed to an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) with Adani.

“There are still large numbers of our people who are opposed to this project on our country,” he said.

“We’ve got nowhere else to go, that’s our home, our Yumba, the locus of our creation – we have nothing else.

“Adani will just go in there, dig a hole in the ground, fracture the ecosystem, destroy the aquifers, destroy the springs and then walk away and leave it.”

Greens Senator Larissa Waters, said the rights of the Wangan and Jagalingou people have been “absolutely trashed.”

“The Indigenous Land Use Agreement which has been signed by some of the representatives - I support the Wangan and Jagalingou people’s stance that it is not a proper ILUA and it’s being challenged in court because the relevant folk did not give their consent,” Senator Waters told NITV News.

“The process has been bungled.”

With the mine still waiting on approvals including finance, railways, pipelines and First Nations consent, Senator Waters said Adani would be wrong to break ground.

“Native Title is still not would be just be the height of insult to Traditional Owner rights,” Senator Waters said.

“This mine just simply should not go ahead on climate grounds but should never go ahead without Traditional Owner consent.

“They’ve got another thing coming if they think it’s all systems go.”

A flawed process

QLD Greens MP Michael Berkman said the Native Title and ILUA process is failing First Nations People.

“The framework is manifestly inadequate to properly ensure that the interests of Traditional Owners are represented in approvals process,” Mr Berkman told NITV News.

“The fight for climate justice is really one that needs to have First Nations people at the centre of it because this is not something that has been driven by Australian Traditional Owners or First Nations people around the world.

“This is a colonial problem that we’ve driven.”

The member for Maiwar, who was formerly an environmental lawyer, said the Traditional Owners have been betrayed.

“The management plan that we saw approved yesterday gives me no confidence that we won’t see these ancient and sacred springs wiped out,” he said.

“This kind of project has massive consequences for Native Title and Traditional Owners but the system they are working within doesn’t cut the mustard in terms of going anywhere near recognising sovereignty- that’s a much bigger political question we need to grapple with as parliaments around the country but also as a community.”

But for Adrian Burragubba alongside the Wangan and Jagalingou people, the fight is far from over.

“We are protecting the water, we are protecting our ancestors,” Mr Burragubba told NITV News.

“Our ancestor’s spirit beings, in the beginning when all things were created, they came from water, under the earth and from the sky, from the heavens.

"Our ancestors remain on the land, through the water...those springs that are continuing to flow from day one, for millions upon millions of years, need to continue to flow because that is the story of who we are - the Rainbow Serpent story - the Mundunjudra.”

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