Youth Verdict and The Bimblebox Alliance’s epic human rights, nature and climate legal challenge to Clive Palmer’s proposed Galilee Coal Project has begun.
Over six weeks, the Queensland Land Court will hear compelling evidence that the Mining Lease and Environmental approval for the mine should be refused.
Our clients will argue coal from the mine will impact the human rights of First Nations Peoples by contributing to dangerous climate change. They will also argue the mine would destroy the Bimblebox Nature Refuge which sits on top of the proposed mine site.
In a legal first, First Nations people in Gimuy/Cairns and the Torres Strait Islands of Erub and Poruma will give evidence to the Land Court on Country and in accordance with First Nations protocols.
The court will travel to the traditional lands of First Nations witnesses to hear first-hand how climate change is impacting their lives and what will be lost if climate change is worsened by the burning of coal from new mines, including the Galilee Coal Project.
Youth Verdict’s First Nations-led argument is the first time a coal mine has been challenged on human rights grounds in Australia.
Murrawah Johnson, Co-Director of Youth Verdict and First Nations Campaign lead said:
“First Nations peoples and our cultural rights are barely addressed in policies on climate change.
“To truly address the climate crisis, the first hand experiences of First Nations need to urgently be heard and acted upon.
“First Nations people know what’s best for their Country through their deep and abiding knowledge of Country. They know what will sustain their futures and carry on their cultures.”
“That’s why we’re here today. To make sure the Land Court and Waratah Coal are listening to the lived reality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who are experiencing the detrimental impacts of fossil fuel induced climate change right now.
“Our First Nations witnesses will be sharing cultural knowledge and expertise of Country and climate that has been passed down for thousands of generations to demonstrate how global warming, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, is having profound impacts on their ability to exercise their rights to practice their culture and sustain their livelihoods.
“First Nation’s Cultural rights are supported under the Queensland Human Rights Act and will be argued for the first time in Australia as grounds to reject the mining lease and environmental approval applications for a new coal mine.
“We are taking this case against Clive Palmer’s Waratah Coal mine because climate change threatens all of our futures. For First Nations peoples, climate change is taking away our connection to Country and robbing us of our cultures which are grounded in our relationship to our homelands.
“Climate change will prevent us from educating our young people in their responsibilities to protect Country and deny them their birth rights to their cultures, law, lands and waters.
“Our governments refuse to commit to stopping new coal mines despite the fact that we are running out of time for urgent climate action. So we have stepped up to challenge Clive Palmer’s Waratah Coal mine.
“If the Queensland Government were actually concerned about promoting and protecting human rights they would not be letting Palmer’s mine go ahead.”
Sharyn Munro, spokesperson for The Bimblebox Alliance said:
“The Bimblebox Alliance is taking this action to defend the Bimblebox Nature Refuge. The idea that a coal mining exploration permit can be given out over a nature refuge is unthinkable. It throws into question the entire nature refuge program and the legal agreements that underpin it.
“It’s now more important than ever that Bimblebox be protected, as it was agreed to be. In perpetuity.”
Sean Ryan, EDO Managing Lawyer said:
“This is the first time a coal mine has been challenged on human rights grounds in Australia.
“The case unites First Nations people (through Youth Verdict Ltd) and rural landowners (through The Bimblebox Alliance Inc) as they defend the places they love from Clive Palmer’s climate polluting coal mine.”
“Under Queensland law, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a right to practice and enjoy their culture.
“All cultures are under threat from climate change, but particularly those cultures that have maintained a strong connection to the land and water, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. With its emissions, this coal mine would worsen climate change impacts on culture.
“Our clients will also argue against the direct destruction of the Bimblebox Nature Refuge by the mine.
“Clive Palmer’s coal mine would undermine and destroy this quintessential Australian bush to exploit the coal that will pollute our climate and offend basic human dignities.
“In a long overdue step for environmental litigation in Australia, the Land Court will follow First Nations protocols throughout the hearing. These protocols accept Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of communicating and provide a more respectful system for First Nation witnesses to be heard in Court.”
The battle to protect the Bimblebox Nature Refuge
The hearing began with a site visit to the Bimblebox Nature Refuge, near Alpha in central-western Queensland. The court travelled to the almost 8000-hectare site and was welcomed onto Wangan and Jagalingou Country by Uncle Adrian Burragubba.
The Bimblebox Nature Refuge is an important habitat, teeming with a known 668 species of native plants and animals.
It was bought for conservation in 2000, when a group of locals decided to invest their hard-earned savings to protect the property from widespread clearing taking place across the region. The Australian Government chipped in with a grant of around $300,000 for the land purchase. That grant came with the condition that the site become a Protected Area, as categorised by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Bimblebox was to be protected in perpetuity.
Today, the nature refuge is an invaluable study in how the conservation of the natural environment can be prioritised on private grazing properties. Allowing Bimblebox to be destroyed for a coal development would undermine the entire nature refuge program.
Since The Bimblebox Alliance first challenged the Galilee Coal Project, proponent Waratah Coal has amended its plans, and no longer intends to undertake open cut mining on Bimblebox Nature Refuge. However, the proposal to underground mine beneath Bimblebox has not changed. The integrity of the National Reserve System of Protected Areas will be in question if mining of Nature Refuges is permitted.
The court will hear evidence that Waratah’s underground mine would cause subsidence of the surface and likely impact hydrology and ecosystems. The very biodiversity values that Bimblebox has been established to protect would be in peril.
The beautiful Bimblebox Nature Refuge: What’s at stake:
On Tuesday April 26, the Land Court in Brisbane began hearing opening arguments in the case.
Youth Verdict and The Bimblebox Alliance will ask President Kingham of the Land Court of Queensland to recommend that the Mining Lease and Environmental Approval for the Galilee Coal Project be refused by the minister.
The solicitor on record for this case is Alison Rose. EDO would like to thank barristers Saul Holt QC, Emrys Nekvapil, Kasey McAuliffe-Lake and Katherine Brown for their assistance.