Adani opponents won’t accept indigenous Australians wish to think for themselves.
On November 27, 1861, a group of white settlers set out to take revenge against an Aboriginal tribe that had killed 19 people. At least 60 Aborigines from the Wangan and Jagalingou tribe were shot, but the true number was likely much higher. In the aftermath, the Wangan and Jagalingou were dispersed to missions, often hundreds of kilometres away.
Almost three years ago, their descendants convened in Maryborough to consider whether they would support the Adani Carmichael coal project on their traditional lands. They voted 294 to one in favour of the project.
Ever since, well-funded green activists have targeted the Wangan and Jagalingou people’s dignity and intelligence in an attempt to undermine the result.
The activists claim that Adani “paid off” the people at the meeting because Adani paid for food and accommodation costs. Federal law requires Adani, and other similar proponents, to pay for the travel and accommodation of attendees so that representation at such native title decision-making meetings can be maximised.
Even so, what is the point being made here?
That proud Aboriginal people would cheaply sell out thousands of years of heritage for free Wi-Fi at the Best Western in Maryborough? These activists would make a 19th century British imperialist blush.
Unfortunately, a gullible committee of the United Nations, based in Geneva, has fallen for such hogwash.
Last year, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination wrote to the government asking us to consider suspending the Adani Carmichael project because of concerns raised with it about whether indigenous peoples had given “informed consent” to the project.
The UN has made fundamental errors which indicated it accepted the activists’ claims at face value, without even the most basic research or diligence beforehand.
First, the UN failed to even contact the registered Wangan and Jagalingou people who had given consent to the Adani mine.
The contact details are available on the internet. The Wangan and Jagalingou applicants have written to the UN asking it for an apology.
Nor did the UN refer to the agreement reached in Maryborough. The resulting Indigenous Land Use Agreement has already withstood a legal challenge in the Federal Court, a fact to which the UN seems blind.
Indeed, Justice John Reeves in his decision dismissing the challenge concluded that “none of Ms Kemppi’s grounds of challenge to the certificate and/or registration of the Adani ILUA has any merit”.
Second, the UN raised concerns with amendments to the Native Title Act that the Australian parliament agreed to two years ago.
These amendments followed a Federal Court decision that among other things would have required native title claimants to establish unanimous consent before making agreements with investors.
This overturned a prior court ruling that only a majority of claimants required approval.
If the federal government had not amended the Native Title Act, more than 100 indigenous land use agreements would have been called into question.
One of the agreements would have been Adani but the others dealt with a variety of mines, farms and tourism developments that provide enormous economic, employment and social benefits to indigenous peoples. This is the reason why the National Native Title Council, the peak body for native title groups, supported the amendments and indeed stated that the amendments “have been sought by the indigenous native title sector for a number of years”.
The UN committee made no reference to the indigenous support for these amendments, even though their support is on the public record.
The UN’s amateurish and ignorant intervention into the Adani issue has done a great disservice to it as an organisation. Moreover, the UN’s actions only help foster division within indigenous communities.
This is exactly what the activists want. They have no connection to these communities and will have no involvement in picking up the pieces if they achieve their aims of stopping investment and jobs for indigenous peoples.
Perhaps we thought that we had left imperialistic evils in the 19th century. But once again, a bunch of far-removed activists is trying to tell First Australians what they can and can’t do on their own land.
Whatever you think of coal, we should resist such an attempt to entrench this modern form of colonialism.
Matt Canavan is Minister for Resources and Northern Australia