Indigenous concerns: Australia approves $3 billion urea project

After conferring with traditional owners about its potential impact on ancient indigenous rock art, Australia’s environment minister on Tuesday rejected a request to halt building of a A$4.5 billion ($3.1 billion) fertiliser plant.

Despite the opposition of certain indigenous women, the government supported the local indigenous representation group’s decision to move through with the facility.

In accordance with a statute preserving indigenous heritage, two Murujuga indigenous women asked the government last month to prevent Perdaman Chemicals and Fertilizers from beginning construction on a urea factory on the Burrup Peninsula in Western Australia.

More than a million rock carvings on the Burrup Peninsula, some dating back more than 40,000 years, have been proposed for UNESCO World Heritage status. These locations are close to an industrial area where two liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants and two fertilizer factories currently exist.

The Murujuga Aboriginal Corp (MAC), the “most representative organization” for the five traditional owner groups in the area, did not wish to prevent the urea factory from moving forward, according to Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek, who announced her decision not to halt construction.

Plibersek claimed that the MAC and Perdaman had reached agreements for the proper cultural handling of the sites, including the relocation of part of the rock art.

The two women who attempted to stop the urea plant’s development are members of an organization called Save our Songlines, which claims that the MAC and its Circle of Elders do not reflect their viewpoints.

Like any community, Traditional Owners may hold divergent viewpoints, according to Plibersek.

Plibersek stated in a statement, “I am satisfied, though, that the MAC are the legally constituted and democratically elected group that safeguards First Nations culture in the Burrup area.

Plibersek stated that she is still debating whether to file a separate case to halt building in accordance with the statute protecting Aboriginal heritage.

Save our Songlines spokeswomen Raelene Cooper and Josie Alec said in a statement that if this results in another Juukan Gorge, “the community, the country, and the entire world will be outraged because the federal government would not stand up to industry and protect sacred Aboriginal sites from further desecration.”

The traditional proprietors of Juukan Gorge were greatly upset by the accident, which was caused by the global mining company Rio Tinto in 2020 for an iron ore mine, and there was a public uproar.

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