• Queensland Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch says she has "shed tears" for Traditional Owners divided over the Adani mine. (AAP)Source: AAP
EXCLUSIVE: Queensland's first Aboriginal MP shares her internal struggle over Adani's divisive coal mine.
Ella Archibald-Binge

26 Jun 2019 - 5:06 PM  UPDATED 26 Jun 2019 - 5:06 PM

Queensland Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch has opened up about the "huge toll" of balancing politics with her cultural obligations as an Indigenous woman throughout the Adani coal mine approval process.

Ms Enoch was recently captured on video telling an anti-Adani protestor she was "devastated" after her department green-lit the contentious project this month.

In another clip, she told a Cairns audience she'd "shed tears" over the mine's approval. 

Ms Enoch spoke exclusively to NITV News to clarify her comments. 

"I know that Traditional Owners have been divided and split over this particular project - that’s what I’m devastated about," she said.

"As a Traditional Owner myself, I know what it’s like first hand when you see division in your families or in your community.

"The agony that that creates in families, you can feel it in every single fibre of your being... and yes, I have shed tears for that aspect of it."

Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners have been split over their consent for the mine, with one group awaiting the result of a federal court bid to overturn Adani's Indigenous land use agreement. 

The anti-Adani group fears their native title within the construction zone may be permanently extinguished before they have exhausted their legal options.

The minister declined to comment on the ongoing case, but said the government was committed to "see the court proceedings play out" before taking steps to extinguish native title.

She reiterated her stance on upholding the decision of the environmental regulator to approve the mine.

"Regardless of what my personal opinion is, regardless of what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people might like to happen, I have to uphold the law of this state, and that’s what I have done."

Ms Enoch is a Nunukul/Nughi woman of the Quandamooka nation from Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island), with ties to the Kanjuu people in Far North Queensland.

She was the first Indigenous woman elected to Queensland parliament and the state's first Aboriginal MP. 

A former teacher, non-profit worker and the eldest of 42 first cousins, Ms Enoch says it was her desire to serve that led her to a career in politics.

In her maiden speech in 2015, she acknowledged her responsibility to serve not only her electorate of Algester, but to uphold "the expectations and hopes of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples".

In practice, she says trying to "straddle two worlds" has been incredibly challenging, with family and friends looking to her to change the status quo.

"Right now I’ve got incredible conflicts of interest that I have to manage every single day," she said. "I’m constantly trying to find the ethical balance and the cultural balance in all of that.

"But I have to remind myself everyday that I stand here with 3000 generations behind me. And when you connect to that culturally and spiritually, the next most powerful step becomes very obvious."

'I want to see treaties in this country'

At the top of Ms Enoch's political agenda is kick-starting treaty negotiations in Queensland. 

She says if treaties were already in place, the negotiation process between Adani and Traditional Owners could've been very different. 

"I want to see treaties in this country, I want to see treaties in this state. I want sovereignty to be recognised and if that was in place, then perhaps we might see less division with regards to projects like this."

She hopes her experience will lay the foundation for other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander politicians looking to follow in her footsteps.

"My job really is to make sure that I can kick this door wide open so that other people who are coming behind me can see this path as a much easier path to take than what I’ve had to take."

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