December 4, 2014 – 12:00AM
brisbanetimes.com.au senior reporter
Scott Gorringe with his son Todd in the land over which Mithaka has a Native Title claim. Photo: The Wilderness Society
Queensland Channel Country Aborigines say they are so frustrated with a lack of communication with Mines Minister Andrew Cripps they are taking their concerns over oil and coal seam gas fracking to the United Nations.
They have prepared a detailed submission of their concerns to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People.
That submission will be made on Thursday.
Aborigines are seeking UN help to fight fracking in the western Queensland Channel Country. Photo: The Wilderness Society
It is the second time in two years an arm of the United Nations has been asked to investigate the impact of Queensland Government policies, after UNESCO began investigations into the Great Barrier Reef in 2013.
Article 19 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples asks that “states” consult with indigenous people, to obtain their “free, prior and informed consent” before taking action which could affect them.
The Mithaka people have claim over five million hectares of Channel Country land in the Cooper Creek basin near the Queensland-South Australia border.
Fears for both the above-ground water and subterranean water health of the Channel region are held. Photo: The Wilderness Society
Exploration leases for oil and coal seam gas cover 1.7 million hectares (roughly a third) of this land and the majority of those oil and coal seam gas leases in the Channel Country are held by mining company Santos.
The Mithaka people say Queensland’s third-largest oil spill – 240,000 litres of oil from Santos’s Zeus Mine on May 15, 2013 in the Cooper Basin – received very little scrutiny.
They are worried a similar oil spill from a well during the wet season could spread quickly through the Cooper Creek Basin to Lake Eyre and could impact the Great Artesian Basin.
Scott Gorringe is the youngest of 11 brothers and sisters from the Gorringe family, traditional land owners of the Mithaka people’s land in the Channel Country.
He also holds a Masters in Rural Systems Management and has held positions as Visiting Fellow at Queensland University of Technology and Adjunct Senior Lecturer at University of Queensland.
“My dad, Bill Gorringe, is from that country and my grandmother – his mother Nunklea – is from that country,” he said.
“Dad was born on country on a property named Glengyle and we’ve always grown up on that country and connected to those stories.”
Scott Gorringe says Aboriginal people in the Channel Country do not want oil or gas mining in their country.
“There is strong agreement that we don’t want coal seam gas or shale gas operations anywhere near that country or anywhere near those flood plains,” he said.
Mr Gorringe said the Mithaka people have repeatedly tried to speak to the Queensland Government and to Mines Minister Andrew Cripps.
“We have tried to be in touch with the government through email contacts and through letters to try to get them to have a conversation with us,” he said.
“And they have ignored us.”
Mr Gorringe said Mr Cripps did not include him on the Western Rivers Advisory Panel (WRAP), when he had been on the previous Wild Rivers Advisory Panel.
“This fella, this Minister Cripps has been really devious about the way they have interpreted that,” he said referring to a news story in Queensland Country Life where Minister Cripps told readers he was still on the consultation group, when he had not been included.
“He knew that, he set it all up.”
Mr Gorringe said there was now a wide cross-section of Aboriginal people in Queensland who believe Mr Cripps has not consulted with them.
Mr Cripps was given responsibility for developing future growth in the Western Rivers region and the Lake Eyre basin after the March 2012 election.
The organisation guiding growth in the region, the Western Rivers Advisory Panel, reported in its 2013 annual report that consultation needed to be much wider.
In recommendation 5; it specifically asked for three tighter controls over mining activities where they could impact the Great Artesian Basin;
- “that the Great Artesian Basin recharge areas should be protected from the cumulative effects of mining.”
- “that mining activity should not be authorised if it has the potential to reduce/interfere with natural flows.”
- “that mining requirements must include no interference of flows to major rivers, major tributaries and floodplains.”
A spokesman for Mr Cripps said the Queensland Government acknowledged some people in the community had concerns in relation to potential resources development and the sustainable use of water in the Channel Country.
“There is also a clear desire amongst a number of community leaders and local residents in the same region for economic development and job opportunities,” the spokesman said.
The spokesman said the Mithaka people’s Native Title claim has not yet been determined and disputed that there had been no communication between the Minister and the Mithaka people.
“The Queensland Government has notified the relevant Native Title applicant of proposed activities through their legal representative,” the spokesman said.
He said the Western Rivers consultation process involved equal representation from those concerned about the environment, from indigenous representatives, councils, graziers and the resources sector.
“Oil and gas activity has occurred in this part of Queensland since the 1960s, providing valuable employment opportunities and economic activity that supported local communities,” the spokesman said.
“The resources sector has co-existed with indigenous, grazing and tourism interests for many, many years and we strongly believe that it can and will continue to do so.”
The spokesman said Santos provided advice on the May 2013 oil spill to the Department of Natural Resources and Mines, the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.
“Santos provided the findings of its investigation to the Petroleum and Gas Inspectorate, including recommendations to review its standard oil well designs and operating procedures,” the spokesman said.
“The Petroleum and Gas Inspectorate has made recommendations for further improvement and the investigation was closed.”
Scott Gorringe now lives and works as an educator in Canberra with his own company calledMurrimatters.
He says the Mithaka people have not been consulted, despite their long-held objections to oil and gas mining.
“None of the Mithaka people were involved in it,” he said.
“I am the representative to speak on behalf of all that mob out there.
“Nobody has spoken to me and I can’t get an audience with them.”
He points to a quote from Queensland Premier Campbell Newman on October 5, 2011 when he promised to put Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people “in the driver’s seat” in listening to their views on traditional lands.
“Not only are we not in the driver’s seat, we aren’t even in the car,” Mr Gorringe said.
“We are now forced to use international law to protect our rights.”
Source : The Brisbane Times