A court has knocked back the Gomeroi people's attempt to save significant areas of cultural heritage from destruction as part of an open cut coal mine, despite acknowledging their cultural value.
Veronica "Dolly" Talbott, a Gomeroi Traditional Custodian, sued the environment minister Sussan Ley over her decision not to protect the areas on the Liverpool Plains in northwest NSW.
Ms Ley had acknowledged that the development of the Shenhua Watermark open cut coal mine would destroy or desecrate the significant areas, but decided to give it the green light because of the mine's economic and social benefits, which she said outweighed the area's heritage value.
The Federal Court ruled on Wednesday that Ley's decision was lawful.
“It remains vitally important to us to protect our sacred places, songline and burials of our ancestors, which is a sacred place to us, a place which holds our ancestors’ footprints, their legacy to us," Ms Talbott said in a statement.
Ms Talbott said the decision showed the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act was not able to provide "meaningful protection for areas of particular significance to Aboriginal people."
Ms Talbott said she had lodged a new application for protection of sacred areas with "substantial new information", on behalf of 600 Gomeroi people and 31 Aboriginal Nations.
Ms Talbott's lawyer, the CEO of the Environmental Defenders Office, David Morris, said in a statement that the decision "highlights the fact that our federal culture and heritage laws are not fit for purpose."
"The Act allows short-term economic outcomes to outweigh the protection of culturally important sites," he said.
"The Court has found that the Minister was permitted to consider very broad, non-indigenous, matters in deciding to refuse protection for these ancient sites of immeasurable value.”
Ms Talbott said that after the destruction of the Juukan caves there was an urgent need to protect places of significance for Aboriginal people.
“As the oldest living culture on the planet, surely this should be of utmost importance to Australia?”