The Queensland Police Department has issued a “public statement of regret” to Wangan and Jagalingou man Adrian Burragubba, in connection with an incident in which he was forced by officers to leave traditional lands on demand from coal miner Adani.
The cultural leader filed a complaint with the Queensland Human Rights Commission after police dismantled a protest camp opposing Adani’s Carmichael coal mine in August last year.
At the time, Burragubba said the traditional owners of Wangan and Jagalingou (W&J) had sought to âreestablish tribal controlâ over their land and were blocking road access to the coal mine under construction.
Before starting the protest, lawyers acting for Burragubba wrote to senior police officers outlining their legal rights under indigenous title legislation to establish a “cultural camp” on the land, on which Adani holds a lease. pastoral.
âPrior to our occupation, we sought legal advice regarding the exercise of our coexisting Aboriginal property rights at common law,â the legal letter reads.
“We therefore refuse to leave as we peacefully and legally exercise our indigenous property rights.”
Police told Burragubba they got different advice – that he needed Adani’s permission to occupy the land and that he could be charged with trespassing if he didn’t voluntarily leave. He and others then left the site.
It is understood that Burragubba is the first indigenous person to assert his cultural rights against a state agency since the passage of the Queensland Human Rights Act in 2019.
In the statement of regret sent last month, Deputy Commissioner Kev Guteridge said police acknowledged that Burragubba represents a group of traditional W&J owners “aggrieved by Adani’s occupation of the land”.
âWe recognize that the incident of August 28, 2020 was traumatic for Mr. Burragubba and his extended family, and caused embarrassment, injury and humiliation.
âWe recognize that there are complex legal issues and cultural sensitivities associated with this issue. We recognize the complexity of these issues and commit to taking the issues raised in this complaint into account in future responses. “
The statement did not contain any direct admission or statement that the police or Adani were ultimately wrong to claim that the traditional owners of W&J were encroaching on the site of the pastoral lease. These rights remain contested.
However, the police statement raises the possibility that if the traditional owners now seek to reestablish a camp blocking road access to the mine, Adani or the police may have to seek a complex legal decision on whether they can be evicted. by force.
Burragubba said he was not sure at this point if he and others would take over camp, but the people at W&J were “free to come and go without a hitch.”
“We informed the state, we informed the government, we informed Adani, we informed the police [that W&J people will occupy the land]. At this point, I cannot say if we will resume action to stop the mine.
âThe police refused to listen to our legal advice and that was the problem, they mistook him for Adani. We have the legal right to be on pastoral leases. We have the legal right to coexist with pastoral leases. Essentially, Adani is not allowed to [make accusations of trespass].
“We are not happy that Adani continues to use the police, government and the law to pursue, persecute and harm us.”
Queensland Police have previously been accused of acting to ‘protect’ Adani’s business interests after a team of French journalists were arrested and put on restrictive bail conditions while making a documentary on the controversial coal mine.
When the documentary was released, journalist Hugo ClÃ©ment detailed how the police had them “under surveillance” and repeatedly sought to block the shootings near the Abbot Point coal terminal in Adani.
Police have been contacted for comment.
Adani said in a statement that Burragubba’s son Coedie McAvoy had undertaken cultural practices on the company’s pastoral lease on two occasions since September last year.
âWe corresponded with him in writing to inform him that he was able to access the pastoral lease for this reason,â the company said.
âWe are very supportive of traditional owners who undertake cultural activities and as a responsible land owner we will continue to ensure that when people want to access our site, they can do so in a planned, safe and respectful manner that ensures that time [Adani] and everyone on the property complies with the law.