At the coalface: traditional owners demand protection

Rudi Maxwell and Cheryl Goodenough |

Traditional owners are pursuing a legal challenge involving Adani’s Carmichael mine.
Traditional owners are pursuing a legal challenge involving Adani’s Carmichael mine.

Traditional owners are seeking a court order to force the Queensland government to protect an important sacred site, safeguard cultural heritage and defend human rights.

Adrian Burragubba, a spokesperson for the Wangan and Jagalingou Nagana Yarrbayn Cultural Custodians, said Adani’s Carmichael coalmine was causing environmental harm to the Doongmabulla Springs, a culturally significant site.

He has accused the state environment department of being aware of the threat from open cut mining and the unreliability of Adani’s modelling predictions when it decided to take no action in response to his complaint.

By the department failing to stop contamination and other harm to their sacred site and the water, the government is breaching human rights, Mr Burragubba said in a statement.

The department applied to have the case dismissed, with a hearing held in the Brisbane Supreme Court on Thursday.

In March 2023, the department issued Adani an Environmental Protection Order preventing it from underground mining until submission of a second groundwater model review report.

Adani was required to provide new modelling as CSIRO and Geoscience Australia had raised concerns while the government had low confidence in the predictions made in the earlier report.

Adani has a separate court challenge, set down for hearing in the Planning and Environment Court on May 20.

Cultural custodians wanted to prevent any further open-cut mining until they could be satisfied there was no longer a threat of environmental harm to the springs, Mr Burragubba said.

The custodians have commissioned their own environmental reports, which identified various problems with ground and spring water quality.

Lawyers for the cultural custodians said Adani consistently breached its environmental conditions without any effective regulatory intervention.

A spokesperson for Bravus, which is part of the global Adani Group, said it rejected incorrect claims made in the legal action which the Queensland government had applied to have struck out.

“No damage has occurred to the Doongmabulla Springs or to underground water at the Carmichael mine, and the mine is fully compliant with all its state and federal environmental obligations and regulations,” the statement said.

“The case makes widely inaccurate claims about our rigorous scientific program to study and protect groundwater in and around the Carmichael mine and at the Doongmabulla Springs complex which lies more than eight kilometres from the mine boundary and 11 kilometres from any mine activity.”

A spokesperson for the environment department said that based on monitoring data provided by Adani, it “does not have current concerns about impacts to the Doongmabulla Springs complex from mining activities”.

The department will continue to regulate the mining operation and take appropriate action if and when it becomes necessary, the spokesperson said.

Justice Martin Burns has reserved his decision until a date yet to be decided.