Politics

Indigenous Climate Activists Just Sent A Huge Message To The Turnbull Government

The budget isn't the only controversial thing going down this week.

With the federal budget set to be announced tomorrow, this is a big week for Australian Parliament. For the government, it’s a time of champagne and cigars on the lawn. For the rest of us (more precisely: young people, poor people, anyone who doesn’t own three investment properties) it’s a time of intense anxiety. But, as Seed Youth Indigenous Climate Network have pointed out overnight, this isn’t the only thing we should feel anxious about.

This week the government is also proposing amendments to the Native Title Act that would clear the way for the controversial Adani coal mine in Queensland. Now, in defence of climate justice, a team of volunteers have got in early and spelled out a clear message in candles all over the Parliament House lawns.

Intended as both a message of opposition to the Turnbull government and a plea to the Opposition, “Land rights not mining rights” is a statement that concisely sums up a lot of complex issues.

There’s been an increase in ongoing conflict between Indigenous groups and mining companies over the past few months with a Federal Court decision in February blocking a $1.3 billion deal as a result of disagreement from Noongar people in Western Australia. Though hailed as a win for land rights, the deal was controversial and set a precedent that didn’t seem so great for foreign investors who are into mining.

Before this case, Indigenous land use agreements were made between people who wanted to use the land and native title groups without total consensus. It wasn’t necessary for every native title claimant to sign off on the proposed project. Now, that’s complicated. This court ruling explicitly ruled that the Native Title Act does need everyone on board — which is a lot harder to do when someone’s asking to tear up the land for Australia’s largest and most controversial coal mine.

Malcolm Turnbull is incredibly keen to get this fixed up. He’s having meetings with the mine’s extremely rich commercial stakeholder Gautam Adani and claiming that parliament is keen to back him up in getting the native title legislation changed in Adani’s favour. With an estimated $21 billion in the project and a promise of thousands of jobs (though evidence heard by the Federal Court suggests these job figures are hugely exaggerated), the Adani plans for Carmichael Mine align well with the government’s interest in “jobs and growth”, but have faced continued opposition from the Wangan and Jagalingou people.

Seed Youth Indigenous Climate Network claim the government’s attempt to “fix” the native title measures this week is an attempt to take power away from the traditional owners of the land.

“We’re highly concerned that changes to Native Title will be quietly rushed through Parliament this week while there is excess noise about the federal budget,” said Seed co-director Larissa Baldwin. “The introduction of these amendments is a shameful attempt by the Turnbull Government to change the rules to suit their mates at Adani, and the mining lobby, at the expense of Aboriginal rights.

“These new changes to the Act will only serve to make it easier for mining companies to get their projects off the ground. It will undermine our ability to say no. But also make it harder for us to challenge dodgy deals in court.

“We’re sick and tired of this Government making changes to laws that impact us without proper consultation of what we need and want. If this bill passes this week it will be a shameful day for the Turnbull Government, and a day our communities won’t forget.”

Seed are now petitioning the government to “put the brakes on amendments to the Native Title Act [and] consult properly with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mob”. More than 8,700 people have supported their statement. They’re also encouraging supporters to get in touch with politicians to express their dissent.

This comes after similar opposition from local Indigenous groups. When the mine’s plans were first announced, the Wangan and Jagalingou Family Council garnered more than 100,000 signatures in a petition which called on Adani itself. Since then, there have been multiple legal challenges.