Is mining trampling on Aboriginal culture?

By Lisa Martin/AAP with AG Staff 20 April 2011
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Mining companies in QLD have been accused of taking a “divide-and-conquer” approach, says an expert.

MINING COMPANIES ARE circumventing Queensland Aboriginal cultural heritage laws to the detriment of sacred sites, an indigenous academic says.

The allegation follows claims a Queensland coal seam gas company has destroyed ancient Aboriginal stone arrangements at Kogan, near Dalby.

Indigenous academic Dr Jillian Marsh says laws aimed at protecting indigenous sacred sites are generally toothless. She says it’s common for mining companies to take a “divide-and-conquer” approach to negotiations with indigenous communities by dealing only with individuals who are sympathetic to their agenda.

Predatory approach

“This pattern of behaviour by the mining industry is really very predatory,” she says. “They go in and cut private, secret deals.”

“The people who benefit from it are the ones with the knowledge and information, and the rest are left out and disempowered. The people who are feeling like they’re being snubbed are usually the people who have the closest connection to the land and the greatest appreciation for the spiritual connection that people have had for years.”

Aboriginal traditional owner Neil Stanley and cattle farmers Rob and Sharon Lohse have accused QGC of damaging the sacred Aboriginal site in Kogan.

Neil says he’s concerned the indigenous representatives dealing with the company have conflicts of interest because one female signatory and one female proxy for a signatory are employed as “Aboriginal liaison officers” for QGC. He says QGC and the three Barunggam Aboriginal people on the native title claim are refusing to release the company’s cultural heritage management plan. However, QGC says the site is not in the way of its coal seam gas development.

Conflict of interest

A QGC gas well is located on a property known as Kerrsdale, adjacent to the Lohses’ property. The Lohses say 75 per cent of the sacred site is on their farm, with the rest on the company’s property. However, Queensland’s environment department says QGC has met its duty of care under the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act.

QGC spokesman Paul Larter said it was common and legal for resource companies to employ people involved in native title agreements. He confirmed the two women were employed as casual contractors for cultural heritage work. “We are expected under the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act to protect Aboriginal cultural heritage during our activities,” he said in a statement.

“This can only be done by employing representatives of the relevant Aboriginal Party to manage cultural heritage matters. Therefore, in Queensland, it is common for resource companies to employ representatives of an Aboriginal (native title) party.”