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Australia Traditional owners driven apart by Adani issue unite to fight Queensland Government

22:32  05 december  2019
22:32  05 december  2019 Source:   abc.net.au

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a group of people that are standing in the grass: Wangan and Jagalingou people gathered on Sunday in Clermont for a traditional ceremony ahead of the Federal Court hearing. (Supplied: W&J)© Provided by ABC NEWS Wangan and Jagalingou people gathered on Sunday in Clermont for a traditional ceremony ahead of the Federal Court hearing. (Supplied: W&J)

Traditional owners who were split for years over Adani mining their ancestral homelands say they have joined forces to fight the Queensland Government over its opposition to their land rights claim.

Wangan and Jagalingou (W&J) representatives have publicly united to condemn the state's decision to contest their bid, lodged 15 years ago, for native title in central Queensland's Galilee Basin, which includes parts of the Adani mine.

A 10-day Federal Court trial is underway in the nearby town of Clermont.

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Adrian Burragubba, who was forced into bankruptcy over legal challenges to Adani, said that all of the W&J were "now faced with a common enemy and that is the state that wants to take away our rights".

Patrick Malone, who had been at odds with Mr Burragubba by supporting the successful land use deal with Adani, said he thought "as a native title group, we've moved on from Adani".

"We're all on the same page and we want the same outcome … recognition of our native title and our native title rights," he said.

Both men questioned the motives of the state, which is opposing an unusual number of current claims.

The ABC is aware of at least eight contested claims, from Cape York to the south-west Queensland outback.

Wangan and Jagalingou lodged a native title claim 15 years ago for land across the Galilee Basin.© ABC News Images Wangan and Jagalingou lodged a native title claim 15 years ago for land across the Galilee Basin.

The Queensland Government said that over 26 years of the Native Title Act, the state had opposed fewer than one in 12 claims.

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"Who knows what the motives of the state are in pushing us through the courts?" Mr Malone said.

"It makes it very difficult because of over 15 years, a number of our elders have died, people with first-hand knowledge, people who were born in this country are no longer with us.

"The longer you drag things out the more that's going to happen."

The state's refusal to consent to native title is the latest blow dealt by the Government to the W&J in recent months.

In August, the state extinguished native title over parts of the Adani site without first telling representatives.

The state also successfully pushed for the exclusion of four of the 12 W&J native title representatives from the current claim after a government-appointed anthropologist raised questions about evidence of their ancestors.

Documents seen by the ABC indicate that two other expert anthropologists commissioned by Queensland South Native Title Service accepted the evidence of the four family representatives.

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A genealogist questioned the ancestral evidence of only one of the representatives.

All the experts including the state's anthropologist agreed the claim involved a pre-colonisation society that was more accurately characterised as the Clermont-Belyando people.

Wangan and Jagalingou have agreed to bring forward their native title claim under this name but identify as W&J.

Three of the excluded representatives have since launched a legal bid to re-join the claim.

Mr Malone said the state's position, flagged a year ago, that the W&J did not have strong enough evidence of ongoing cultural connection to country, was wrong.

"It seems to me we've met all the criteria," he said.

He also blamed the state's handling of the claim for "dragging it out" 15 years.

"Name other claims that have gone on for 15 years without resolution. I'm saying it's not normal process," he said.

Mr Malone said that without native title, "people won't have to take any notice of any traditional owners and go ahead and do their own thing and mine their merry way out of things".

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W&J representative Adrian Burragubba© ABC News Images W&J representative Adrian Burragubba

A spokeswoman for Natural Resources Minister Anthony Lynham declined to comment on a matter before the court.

But in a statement issued last week, Mr Lynham said the resolution of native title claims was "complex".

"Under Commonwealth law, applicants must demonstrate that they have maintained a continuing connection to the claim area," he said.

"Queensland has a strong record of settling native title through consent determinations, voluntarily agreed to by all parties.

"Since the Native Title Act commenced in 1993, Queensland has resolved a total of 148 native title claims with only 12 going to trial in the Federal Court."

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