Queensland, Australia: The Mithaka People take Newman Government to United Nations over deregulating water protections in Lake Eyre Basin to enable fracking

Aboriginal group takes Newman Government to United Nations over fracking in the Lake Eyre Basin by Stephanie Smail, December 3 2014, ABC News
The United Nations has been asked to intervene in a battle over oil and gas development in the Lake Eyre Basin. Traditional owners in Queensland’s Channel Country say the State Government is putting the region’s waterways at risk by allowing oil and coal seam gas extraction.

The Mithaka People argue the Newman Government has broken international law by failing to consult them about the use of their land. They have written to the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to ask for help.

But the Queensland Government has argued the Mithaka People have been notified about proposed activities in the region, despite their native title claim not being finalised.

Mithaka representative Scott Gorringe said its waterways were a crucial part of his culture. “Most of our stories start and end around water,” Mr Gorringe said. “Our main significant sites are around water. Not only culturally, environmentally I think it’s critical for that country especially.”

Earlier this year, the Queensland Government wound back laws to allow some oil and gas exploration in south-western Queensland. It said an advisory panel, including local Indigenous leaders, spent months weighing up the pros and cons of the decision.

But the Mithaka People argue they have been shut out of the process, in breach of international law.

“You start mucking around with rivers out our way and damaging underground water, it’s sitting on the Great Artesian Basin,”
Mr Gorringe said.

“And we don’t know what potentially can happen.

“You know, mining companies are telling us one thing and they’re tainted with a brush. And Government’s telling us another and I think they’re tainted with the same brush.”

The Lake Eyre Basin spans more than 1 million square kilometres of Queensland, South Australia, the Northern Territory and New South Wales.

Mr Gorringe admitted it was tempting for people living in Queensland’s remote south-west to accept new industries and the potential benefits they can deliver. “We’re not hypocrites, we understand the value of economic development,” he said.

“We understand the value of progression, yet not at the expense of damaging our water,” he said.

“There’s a whole lot of other opportunities that would present themselves out there if people would be strong enough to hold back and have a look at this stuff and have a talk to us about the opportunities we see. “But we’re not getting that opportunity. The Queensland Government’s not talking to us.” [Are governments talking to anyone other than corporations and their enabling regulators (eg Canada’s NEB and provincial regulators)?]

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Queensland’s Minister for Natural Resources Andrew Cripps said all the parties affected by changes to water protections were consulted equally. “The Queensland Government acknowledges that some people in the community had concerns in relation to potential resources development and the sustainable use of water in the Channel Country,” the spokeswoman said. “There is also a clear desire amongst a number of community leaders and local residents in the same region for economic development and job opportunities. The Mithaka people’s Native Title claim has not yet been determined.” [Emphasis added]

Queensland Indigenous group appeals to UN over mining on traditional land
Mithaka people of south-west Queensland say the government has violated international law by failing to consult them over fracking
by Joshua Robertson, December 4 2014,  The Guardian
The Mithaka people of south-west Queensland have appealed to the United Nations to investigate the state government for opening up their traditional land to mining.

They accuse the Newman government of violating international law by failing to consult them over the removal of “wild rivers” protection laws in favour of shale oil exploration.

A submission to the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples on Thursday also says the dangers posed by chemical “fracking” threaten the Mithaka’s rights to a traditional culture entwined with the waterways known as channel country.

Mithaka representative Scott Gorringe told Guardian Australia the decision to go to the UN was “the first step in our last resort”.

The special rapporteur can question the Australian government over the Queensland government’s actions and formally raise concerns, as it did in 2012 over the commonwealth’s Northern Territory “intervention”.

Gorringe said the Mithaka hoped the UN referral would embarrass the Newman government into reassessing its “ideology led” approach that favoured economic growth while “ridiculing and devaluing the environmental aspects of this country and the cultural aspects of Aboriginal people”.

The Mithaka’s submission was prepared with the help of US environmental and human rights lawyer Martin Wagner. Wagner said the Mithaka had “rights under international law to be meaningfully consulted and involved in decisions about the exploitation of resources on their traditional lands, particularly when that exploitation threatens their culture”.

Like other Aboriginal nations of central Australia, the Mithaka have a culture and oral history that through “songlines” codify knowledge of water sources among the red dunes of the outback.

Gorringe said former laws protecting rivers that feed Australia’s largest lake (Lake Eyre) and its major underground water source (the Great Artesian Basin) “had the support of every stakeholder except [oil and gas company] Santos”.

Santos is test drilling for shale oil and has flagged plans for $1bn investment and 300 fracking wells in the region.

Gorringe said the wild rivers laws were repealed and oil and gas prospecting licences issued amid “a Mickey Mouse consultation process” that “systematically ignored” the Mithaka.

“We haven’t had the opportunity to speak with this government about decisions made on our country… not a single face to face meeting,” he said.

“The only opportunity I’ve had to speak to a member of this government about it was when I rang in on an ABC talkback show and got [premier] Campbell Newman.” 

Gorringe said Newman’s response was “what his response always is” – to cite support for development among northern Queensland Indigenous communities in Cape York and near the Gulf of Carpentaria.

He said thinking differed in channel country, which was “built on the back of cattle (farmers) and Aboriginal people – the two things that will suffer greatly with the damage of water”.

Gorringe said government rhetoric about repealing wild rivers laws to allow more irrigation for farmers was “a smokescreen” for a mining industry that would deliver it much larger royalties.

A spokeswoman for the natural resources and mines minister, Andrew Cripps, said government consultation over the western rivers involved “equal representation” from Indigenous groups, environmentalists, councils, graziers and miners. “The Queensland government acknowledges that some people in the community had concerns in relation to potential resources development and the sustainable use of water in the channel country,” she said. “There is also a clear desire amongst a number of community leaders and local residents in the same region for economic development and job opportunities.”

The spokeswoman said the oil and gas industry had “co-existed with Indigenous, grazing and tourism interests” in that part of Queensland since the 1960s “and we strongly believe that it can and will continue to do so”. She also noted the native title claim of the Mithaka, who currently number 300 people, had “not yet been determined”.

The Mithaka’s submission says their claim, pending since 2012, still gives them procedural rights to consultation and cultural considerations over their land under a number of international treaties. [Emphasis added]

mithaka-leasesSource: Mithaka

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