Indigenous group takes anti-Adani fight to the United Nations claiming human rights violation

Traditional owners fighting Adani's proposed Carmichael mine in Queensland have urged the United Nations to urgently intervene by formally censuring Australia at a meeting in Geneva this month.

United States-based lawyers acting for the Wangan and Jagalingou (W&J) Family Council have called on a UN Committee to publicly condemn Australian authorities for "violating" an international pact against racial discrimination by wiping out their native title rights.

Key points

Traditional owners opposed to Adani's mine want the UN to publicly condemn Australian authorities

The group claims the government is preparing to extinguish its native title claim

The complaint has been sent to Julie Bishop and Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk

In a scathing complaint against the Queensland and federal governments and the National Native Title Tribunal, the mine opponents accuse Australia of "serious violations" of a UN convention and Adani of using the "coercive power" of native title laws stacked against Indigenous groups.

Those opposed to the project within the W&J, which is split over a land use deal with Adani that is now in dispute in the Federal Court, accuse the Government of preparing to extinguish their native title claim even if the deal is ruled invalid.

"In addition to the damage to our land, the Carmichael coal mine would also draw down over 12 billion litres of water each year, which would likely devastate one of our most sacred places: the Doongmabulla Springs," the complaint said.

Australia is better than this, lawyer says

California-based lawyer Noni Austin from Earth Justice, who helped prepare the UN appeal, said the mine "threatens to destroy the Wangan and Jagalingou's ancestral homelands and culture, and their very existence as a people".

"This is a violation of the Wangan and Jagalingou's internationally-protected fundamental human rights, and the actions of the Australian and Queensland governments and Adani Mining are responsible.

"The Wangan and Jagalingou are now forced to ask a UN Committee to urgently protect their human rights, because Australia has failed do so, in violation of international law.

"Australia and Queensland are prioritising a foreign company's profits over the permanent loss of an entire people - Surely Australia is better than this."

The appeal to the UN said the Queensland Government has argued in the federal court that even if an Indigenous land use deal with Adani is ruled invalid, "it still has power to accept the purported surrender of our native title and issue freehold tenure to Adani at any time, thereby extinguishing our native title".

It says the native title system makes good faith negotiations with miners "almost impossible ... because the tribunal almost always allows the project to proceed, even over the Indigenous peoples' explicit objection".

"[It] has no authority to order royalty-type payments, many Indigenous groups feel compelled to agree to the project during the negotiation period so that they can be assured of obtaining at least some royalty-type benefit rather than risk a likely adverse tribunal decision," the letter states.

Ongoing investigation into environmental compliance

It comes a day after the Queensland Government revealed it would force Adani to identify the source of the Doongmabulla Springs, a critical W&J cultural site which experts say is at risk of drying up under Adani's proposed groundwater plan.

Queensland Environment Minister Leanne Enoch also told a parliamentary hearing on Wednesday that her department "has been investigating matters" of environmental compliance around the Carmichael coal mine.

But under questioning by state Greens MP Michael Berkman, she refused to say more than the investigations were "ongoing".

Ms Enoch said Adani was subject to the state's "incredibly strict" environmental conditions.

"What I can say is that one of the plans still outstanding is the Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem Management plan ... Adani is required to identify the source of the aquifer at Doongmabulla Springs ... prior to the approval of that plan," she said.

The complaint has been sent to political leaders including Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop, Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter, Australia's ambassador to the UN Gillian Bird and Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

An Adani Australia spokesperson said the company continued to engage with traditional owners "as we are legally bound to do under the negotiated, agreed and registered Indigenous Land Use Agreements and the Cultural Heritage Management Plans".

"As this complaint to the UN relates to a matter before the court in Australia, we are unable to provide specific comment however, we always comply with our legal obligations," the spokesperson said.

Adani and W&J mine supporters claim the land use deal was supported by traditional owners in an overwhelming 294 to 1 vote in 2016.

They reject claims against the legitimacy of the deal.

W&J mine opponents contend the meeting was "fraudulent" and accuse Adani of discreetly paying thousands of dollars to recruit people to vote, including Aboriginal people with no links to the mine site.

They obtained an expert analysis that estimated W&J people would only get 0.2 per cent of Adani's earnings from the mine, less than half the industry average.

The W&J native title representative group of 12 is now evenly split on the mine.

The Premier and Minister for Foreign Affairs declined to comment on the matter.

ABC News, 3/8/2018

Josh Robertson

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