Game on: Date set for Gomeroi court battle with Ley

The proposed Shenhua Chinese Government-owned coal mine at Breeza, just south of Gunnedah, is facing a new challenge by the Traditional Owners of the Liverpool Plains, the Gomeroi Aboriginal people (also known as Gamilaaray, or Kamillaroi – as in the great highway that traverses the Liverpool Plains and stretches out west to Walgett).

A legal challenge is being heard by the Federal Court of Australia to decide whether the Environment Minister Sussan Ley’s decision to override Aboriginal culture of “immeasurable value” is a misuse of her Ministerial authority.

The challenge was announced by the NSW Environmental Defender’s Office and has been the subject of media reports including the ABC and Northern Daily Leader.

Whilst media have reported the case is brought by well-known delegate of the Elders of the Gomeroi Traditional Custodians (GTC), Veronica “Dolly” Talbott, the matter before the Federal Court concerns all Gomeroi and Aboriginal people not just an individual or family.

“The Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Heritage Protection Act (1984) has been created as last resort protection for cultural heritage,” said Ms Talbott.

“The  Gomeroi Traditional Custodians had the burden of proof to satisfy the criteria to have our culture and heritage protected,” she said. “The Minister in writing acknowledged that we met all the criteria, that we are Aboriginal people with cultural tradition and the areas are within our culture and heritage.”

“The Minister in writing acknowledged our culture is of immeasurable value yet stated that ‘on balance’ she would not declare protection because of the perceived financial social benefits to the community.”

“The Minister acknowledged in writing that our culture and heritage would be destroyed and desecrated and in effect lost forever. It can not be mitigated. No strategies can protect or save it. The open cut mine will obliterate our culture and heritage of immeasurable value.”

Gomeroi representatives challenge the Minister’s assertion that on balance she can’t protect Breeza’s Aboriginal cultural heritage.  Ms Talbott says, “What balance? What mechanism was used to inform the Minister? The purpose of the Act is to protect Aboriginal cultural heritage… the decision just does not make sense.”

“We believe this is wrong. The Minister has an obligation to exercise her responsibilities to implement the Act.”

The case is now listed for hearing at the Federal Court in Sydney on Wednesday, 9th October 2019.

In the meantime, Shenhua Watermark Coal Pty Ltd has removed signage from their premises at Conadilly St, Gunnedah, and staff last week were informing the public that “Shenhua is not here any more” despite other visible evidence to the contrary. This has fueled speculation that the Shenhua brand may be a liability in terms of public opinion. Shenhua Watermark is owned by the State-owned Shenhua Coal group, the largest producer of coal in China.  Also, a restructuring of the company has been discussed in recent times.

Gomeroi Traditional Custodian Veronica Talbott speaks about desecration of Gomeroi traditional lands, burial sites, bora sites and other important cultural places at a screening of the feature film Black Hole, by Director Dujon Pereira. Here she is seen with Panel Moderator Nell Schofield (right), Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich MP (near left) who is currently chairing a Parliamentary Committee on coal and energy and how regional communities can achieve Just Transitions away from reliance on the coal industry. At far left is activist farmer who hosted the Leard Blockade against coal, Cliff Wallace. Image by Anna Christie (2016)

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