Attorney-general George Brandis has intervened on behalf of the government in a Federal Court case, asking the court to delay making a ruling until the government is able to pass legislation that could favour Indian mining giant Adani.
The case has wide ranging implications for the future of the controversial Adani coal mine in Queensland's Galilee Basin, and the future of Australian native title laws. The Commonwealth has special powers under the Native Title Act that allow it to intervene in such cases.
BuzzFeed News has obtained the filing made by the attorney-general’s department on Wednesday. It says the court should “not determine the issue raised by the Applicants’ primary argument until the fate of the Native Title Amendment (Indigenous Land Use Agreements) Bill 2017 is known”.
The government’s proposed changes to the Native Title Act were made necessary by a Federal Court decision earlier this year that invalidated an ILUA in Western Australia because it did not have the support of all traditional owners.
The amendments would make it easier for companies such as Adani to secure ILUAs from traditional owners, as they would only need agreement from a majority of traditional owners, not unanimous consent.
They were unexpectedly delayed in the Senate last week when Labor refused to sign off on them. They are now expected to be passed in June.
The applicants in the case belong to the Wangan and Jagalingou Family Council, traditional owners of the Galilee Basin, which is the site of Adani’s proposed Carmichael coal mine.
Lawyers for the traditional owners claim that without the government’s proposed native title amendments, the traditional owners' case is a slam dunk victory, which is why Brandis has intervened to delay a decision.
Human rights lawyer and adjunct professor of law at Macquarie University, George Newhouse, said Brandis' intervention was using native title law against Indigenous Australians rather than assisting them.
"This is a contemptible intervention from a pro-mining government to deny the legal rights of Indigenous people under the Native Title Act 1993," he told BuzzFeed News.
"[The government's] power is being used to obstruct Indigenous land claimants. This discriminatory law only affects Indigenous Australians. The rights of Indigenous people continue to be stripped away for the benefit of big coal miners."
Greens Deputy Leader and Senator for Queensland, Larissa Waters, slammed the intervention, saying the government had sided with Adani over traditional owners.
"Brandis’ attempt to push a bill through the Senate that was designed to ram through the Adani coal mine against the wishes of the local Wangan & Jagalingou people failed, so now he is interfering in their court case," she told BuzzFeed News.
"This isn’t about good reform to Native Title it’s about making things as easy as possible for Adani at the expense of the land rights of First Australians".
Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said Labor supports the government's proposed amendments to the Native Title act, but declined to comment on Brandis' intervention.
George Brandis did not return a request for comment.