Adani overestimated Carmichael coalmine benefits, Indigenous group says
Wangan and Jagalingou people launch federal court case and urge banks not to fund Queensland mine
Oliver Milman | The Guardian
A Queensland Indigenous group has escalated its battle to halt Australia’s largest mine by launching a federal court case, while members of the group are travelling to the US and Europe to urge banks to not fund the project.
The Wangan and Jagalingou people, which have a native title claim over 30,000 sq km of central Queensland, have lodged a legal bid to overturn a decision that clears the way for the $16.5bn Carmichael mine, overseen by Indian mining firm Adani.
Court documents allege that Adani “grossly overestimated” the economic benefits of the mine to the national native title tribunal, which decided the mine was in the public interest in June.
Adani used the tribunal process after the Wangan and Jagalingou people rejected the mine last year. Representatives from the Wangan and Jagalingou families claim the tribunal did not consider their submissions, instead relying upon the word of Adani and two clan members, who are native title applicants and are in favour of the mine.
The court documents allege Adani acted in “bad faith” by telling the tribunal that the Queensland economy would benefit by $4.17bn and gain 6,789 full time jobs through the Carmichael mine.
The Wangan and Jagalingou claim states the true outcome would be a $1.87bn economic boost and 1,206 extra jobs. A separate court case against the mine saw a consultant employed by Adani give seemingly different figures from the company on the project’s economic benefits. Adani denies any discrepancy.
Separately, five representatives from the tribe will travel to the US and then Europe on Sunday to lobby banks not to fund the Carmichael project.
A total of 11 international banks have ruled out funding the project and associated port infrastructure that sits beside the Great Barrier Reef. The Wangan and Jagalingou group will lobby banks including the Bank of America and Standard Chartered, which is advising Adani. The group will also meet with Indigenous people who oppose the tar sands developments in Canada.
“We’ll argue that the tribunal erred in making that decision and it should be overturned,” said a spokesman for the Wangan and Jagalingou family council.
“The native title system isn’t what people think it is. There’s inherent bias in the system where companies know if they get a “no” they can go to the tribunal and are virtually guaranteed to get their mining lease. Hopefully this case will ventilate the issues around free prior and informed consent and the native title system.”
The Wangan and Jagalingou family council, which represents 12 families that make up the claim group, fear the Carmichael mine would cause huge environmental damage to their ancestral lands.
The vast mine complex, set to launch in 2017, would extract a maximum of 60m tonnes of coal a year and transport it via a new rail line to an expanded Abbot Point port for export. The mine will require 12.5 billion litres of water a year from local sources.
Adani has maintained that the mine will deliver substantial economic benefits to Queensland and will be bound by a raft of rigorous federal environmental conditions. The company has said the Wangan and Jagalingou people will “benefit directly” from the mine and that it will continue to deal with the two native title applicants.
The third native title applicant, musician Adrian Burragubba, is staunchly opposed to the mine but was not considered representative of the group by the native title tribunal. The Wangan and Jagalingou family council, which Burragubba heads, will hold a vote in June over whether to replace the two pro-mine applicants with a new 12-member native title group.
“The native title system isn’t representing Aboriginal people as it should, it’s designed for us to fail,” said Murrawah Johnson, a 20-year-old member of the Wangan and Jagalingou group.
“We decided to take other avenues to protect the land we have left and our sacred sites. Adani don’t have the money to build the mine so our best chance is to talk to the banks. We want to fight Adani in every possible way.
“For some reason there’s this idea that Aboriginal people have to think and act in the same way, while other groups can have diverse views. We have to remember that the Wangan and Jagalingou people rejected a land use agreement, we don’t want them destroying our country.”
Johnson said she was also concerned by the greenhouse gas emissions that would be emitted from the mine and from its coal once it is burned overseas.
An Adani spokesman said the company is confident the national native tribunal (NNTT) decision would be upheld.
“The NNTT variously held that authorised representatives of the W&J are working with the company, the submissions of groups purporting to represent the whole group were not relevant, that the mine and other Adani projects would deliver substantial intergenerational economic benefits to the W&J, and that there are sound and effective cultural heritage management plans for the site long since in place,” he said.
“It is unfortunate that NGOs who have deductible gift recipient status narrowly with respect to their environmental activities have admitted to channeling funds to run a divisive campaign within the W&J group.”
The Wangan and Jagalingou cause is being funded by donations from a selection of groups. Left-leaning activist group GetUp, anti-mining group the Sunrise Project and entrepreneur Graeme Wood have all provided support to the Indigenous clan.