A young Aboriginal land defender has called on the Queensland government to "sit and wait" before extinguishing native title over her traditional lands to make way for Indian mining giant Adani's controversial Carmichael coal mine in Central Queensland.
The Wangan and Jagalingou (W&J) applicants, supported by the Traditional Owners Family Council last week filed a court injunction against Adani and the state government, after the National Native Title Tribunal registered an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) over the site.
An ILUA is an agreement between traditional owners and developers which allows them to negotiate benefits from development on their traditional lands. Traditional Owners have no right of veto over mining under native title.
Adani wants to use the 6795 acres — a site of important cultural and spiritual significance for the W&J — for critical infrastructure for the mining operations. Adani needs the ILUA to gain finance for the mine, with the world's top banks requiring Indigenous consent.
It is one of the last barriers for the controversial multi-billion dollar project, which would make Central Queensland the home to one of the world's largest coal mines.
But while some claimants support the ILUA, others oppose it, and state that the ILUA is fake, and did not meet the requirements of free, prior and informed consent. It has been a divisive struggle that has ripped families and communities apart. The most recent claim group authorisation meeting, on 2 December, voted again to reject the ILUA and refused to agree to extinguishment of native title.
W&J spokesperson Murrawah Johnson told BuzzFeed News that there are concerns the Queensland government could move "at any time" to extinguish native title over the site, before a Federal Court hearing in March that will challenge the validity of the ILUA. That's the reason W&J are seeking an injunction.
"We have a court case, challenging the legitimacy of this agreement, and they seem to be willing to go and extinguish our native title in the face of all of that, despite the agreement being illegitimate," Johnson told BuzzFeed News.
"Even if we win our court case, and the ILUA is found to be illegitimate, the freehold native title extinguishment can not be reversed."
Johnson says the state government has a "duty to us".
"We're their constituents, Adani are not their constituents. We're supposed to be the sacrifice. We're the collateral. They're happy to kill our culture if it means a huge job pull for white Australians."
The W&J Traditional Owner Family Council has already faced the threat of compulsory acquisition of their lands, which is the only option the state has if an ILUA is found invalid.
The ILUA process has deeply divided the claimant group. Earlier this week, one of the 12 registered claimants on the application — Patrick Malone — told the ABC the Queensland coordinator-general had pressured the claimants with extinguishment of native title.
"Each of us applicants got a letter from the coordinator-general saying because we weren't willing to engage with certain people they were preparing to start proceedings to extinguish native title against Wangan Jagalingou Country," Malone told the ABC.
"The seven of us decided it's all about having our native title recognised so we went back to Adani and said, 'We're willing to negotiate ILUA with you'."
Malone said he and the other six claimants who supported the ILUA "really didn't want to lose our native title". One of those claimants has since withdrawn his support.
Johnson says her people deserve a day in court to determine the legitimacy of the ILUA.
W&J says the claimant group has rejected the ILUA three times since 2012. It was the 2016 meeting that allegedly recorded agreement for the ILUA, which was then fast-tracked by the Native Title Tribunal.
She says that there are still concerns over the April 2016 meeting, which recorded a tally in favour of the ILUA of 294-1. She says one woman attended with her family of eight, and that all voted against the ILUA — but did not have their votes recorded in the official tally.
Johnson says she knows of people at the April meeting who were not part of the claim, and of others who had been paid to recruit people to attend the meeting. The W&J affidavit to the Federal Court alleges that security guards at the meeting were told to keep out her uncle, the cultural leader and key opponent to the mine Adrian Burragubba.
Those allegations have been filed in an affidavit to the Federal Court in the lead up to the March hearing.
Johnson and other W&J opponents to the mine are awaiting the outcome of their injunction application, but are facing down the threat of extinguishment, which she says is "in the hands" of the state government.
"All (the state government) has to do is not to act — it's easier for them not to do anything, just wait," Johnson says. "They are trying to trip us up and tie our shoe laces at the starting line.
"We haven't been able to find any justice in three years, but at the same time, let us have our day in court."
And she says the claims that the Adani mine will benefit traditional owners is not true.
A report commissioned by six W&J representatives and conducted by Murray Meaton, who has a long history working for the mining industry, recently found the benefits to W&J people were "well below industry benchmark standards".
Amy McQuire is an Indigenous Affairs Reporter for BuzzFeed and is based in Queensland, Australia.
Contact Amy McQuire at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.