The Queensland Police Service has issued a “public statement of regret” in connection with an incident involving Adrian Boraguba, a man from Wangan and Jaglango, where he was pressured by officers to leave conventional land at the request of Coal Conner Adani.
After police broke up a protest camp against Adani’s Carmichael coal mine in August last year, the cultural leaders filed a complaint with the Queensland Human Rights Commission.
At the time, Bergobba said, the traditional owners of Wangan and Jaglango (W&J) had tried to “re-establish tribal control” on their lands and were blocking road access to the coal mine under construction.
Prior to the protests, lawyers for Burgubba had written to senior police officers outlining their legal rights to the land under local legislation, on which Adani had obtained a guarded lease.
“Prior to our occupation, we sought legal advice on our common law of paternal rights,” the legal letter said.
“So whenever we are exercising our ancestral rights peacefully and legally, we refuse to leave.”
Police told Bergobba that they had received various suggestions – that he needed permission from Adani to take over the land, and that if he did not leave voluntarily, he could be charged with insolence. He and others later left the site.
He is believed to be the first Indigenous person to support his cultural rights against a state power since the passage of the Human Rights Act in 2019.
In a statement of condolence sent last month, Assistant Commissioner Kyu Gorej said police had acknowledged that Burguba represented a group of W&J traditional owners, “saddened by Adani’s occupation of this land”.
“We acknowledge that the August 28, 2020 incident was traumatic for Mr. Bergobba and his extended family, and caused embarrassment, injury and humiliation.
“We know there are complex legal issues and cultural sensitivities about this issue. We acknowledge the complexity of these issues and will consider the issues raised in this complaint in future responses.
The statement did not include a direct entry or statement that the police or Adani ultimately erred in stating that the traditional W&J owners were on site on a lease of guards. These rights are in dispute.
However, the police statement raises the possibility that, if traditional owners now try to re-establish a roadblock, Adani or the police will have to make a complex legal decision. Can they be forcibly removed?
Bergobba said he was not sure at this stage whether he and the other camps would resume, but the W&J people were told “free to come and go without hindrance”.
We have informed the state, we have informed the government, we have informed Adani, we have informed the police. [that W&J people will occupy the land]. At this point I can’t say that we will take action again to stop the ear.
“The police refused to listen to our legal advice and that was the problem. They picked it up for Adani,” he said. We have a legal right to live on pastoral lease. We have the legal right to live with passport leases. Basically, Adani has no right [make accusations of trespass].
“We are not happy that Adani continues to use the police and the government and the laws to sue us and persecute us and harm us.”
Earlier, Queensland police were accused of arresting a staff of French journalists and making a documentary about the controversial coal mine and granting them bail.
When the documentary was released, journalist Hugo Clement described how police kept him “under surveillance” and repeatedly tried to stop filming near Adani’s Abbott Point coal terminal.
Police were contacted for comment.
Adani said in a statement that Burgubba’s son, Quiddie McCoy, had been conducting cultural exercises on lease from the company’s clergy since September last year.
“We have written to him to advise him on why he has been able to access the clergy’s lease,” the company said.
“We are very supportive of the traditional owners of cultural activities and as a responsible landowner we will continue to make sure that when people want to access our site they do so in a planned, safe and respectful manner.” Eligible that ensures both. [Adani] And anyone on the property is bound by the law.
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