If they destroy our country, they will destroy us as a people

Stories / Thursday, February 6th, 2020

This is the text of the speech W&J Council spokesperson, Murrawah Johnson, prepared to give to the Siemens AG annual shareholders’ meeting. Siemens made sure she could not deliver it personally – it was only allowed to be read through a translator.

Greetings, my name is Murrawah, my law is wirdi law — the kubbah, which is the native bee of my country. Wangan country is my homelands and for my people I must rise and fight. 

I am a spokesperson for the Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners Family Council. We are the people of the Galilee Basin in Central Queensland whose lands and waters of the Carmichael and Belyando Rivers area, the place of our ancient and sacred Doongmabulla Springs, will be destroyed  by Adani’s coal mine. 

My people are from the land; we are of Wangan and Jagalingou country. It is my duty as a custodian and descendant of the first people of that land to speak up for the land. My bloodline goes back to the beginning of time in that country. I represent the people who come from and have bloodline in the land, and most particularly, those that practice our law and culture. It is us who are condemned to the threat of the Adani Carmichael coal mine when we have unequivocally and consistently said NO. 

On the 12th of January Mr Kaeser falsely claimed that my people had approved the Carmichael mine. He is in no position to make this claim. Neither he, nor any other Siemens representative has spoken to a Wangan and Jagalingou representative body or authority of our people. It appears his main source of information was then Federal Resources Minister, Senator Matt Canavan, a politician with no credibility on Indigenous rights. 

Siemens is required by international law to act according to the requirements of the standards of Free, Prior and Informed Consent. You have so far failed to do this. 

Had you done your due diligence you would know that since 2012 my people have rejected and resisted the Carmichael mine being built on our land. We have voted “no” on multiple occasions and have fought on the international stage, in the courts of Australia, and across many political fronts to have our decisions recognised and respected. 

Have you  stopped to consider the plausibility of  a vote of 294-1 – something more typical of dictatorships and societies without democracy?  It is certainly not a reflection of our people and the way in which we make self-determined decisions. You do not know us, or what transpired over the last five years, and it appears you have made no effort to find out.   

The so-called approval Siemens are relying on is highly contested and controversial in Australia, and lacks the legitimacy of genuine FPIC. It is not in accord with our traditional laws and customs for decision making; and the numbers are misleading because they are not a true representation of the W&J people. Many traditional owners boycotted that stacked meeting, and many people who ‘voted’ at the time were subsequently removed from the native title claim. Those who attended were given financial incentives.

I am here to tell you that there is no consent. You cannot use a deficient and racially discriminatory piece of  Australian legislation to erase me and the people I represent from the picture. You can not tell us that a process we know to have been coercive and corrupt constitutes our consent for a project you stand to profit from.

Your moral dissociation is a betrayal of your stated policies and commitments.

You must not hide behind the talking points from Adani and the Federal Government in Australia that, I can tell you, my people are all too familiar with and tired from the repetition. There is nothing behind it. You have been duped, Mr Kaeser. 

It is incontestable that the mining leases held by Adani were granted by the Queensland State Government without consent, agreement or authority from the W&J people, in clear breach of our FPIC rights.

The engineering of a meeting by Adani and the State to override our NO decisions and ‘approve’ the mine did not retrospectively validate these leases. It merely added a ‘veneer of consent’ and served to divide our people through brutal state intervention, happily orchestrated by Adani. 

The Adani Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) that Siemens relies on was rendered invalid by a Federal Court decision in 2017. It was only rescued by the intervention of the Commonwealth Attorney General into one of our court cases, and by rushed amendments to the Native Title Act 1993 to ensure the ILUA survived summary dismissal. Australia changed the law to breath life back into a false and manufactured representation of our people that simply doesn’t have what they require — our free, prior and informed consent. 

The Government moved the goalposts when Adani was about to lose. Its actions were taken with the express commitment of the Prime Minister of Australia to Gautam Adani to ‘fix’ the native title problem. In other words, to remove my people from the picture. 

The Adani Carmichael coal mine  will tear the heart out of our country, permanently destroying vast areas of our ancestral homelands and everything on them – plants, animals, our waters, and sacred sites. It would destroy the stories and song lines in our land that give us our law, and teach us who we are and what our culture, spirituality, and customs are. Without these, we cease to exist. 

It is our teachings on how to live with the land, and our intimate relationship with the land, that guides us as to what businesses, industries and economic systems we have on the land. 

The Carmichael mine will devastate our sacred Doongmabulla Springs.  The mine will draw down billions of litres of water each year from aquifers in the area, and if the mine depletes the aquifers that feed the springs, the springs will dry up.  Once dry, even temporarily, the springs cannot be restored. We would not be able to pass our culture onto our future generations. 

Critically for Siemens, Adani’s rail infrastructure will also open the way to other major coal mines in the Galilee Basin, and our lands and waters, which are sacred to us and form our culture, would disappear.  We would not be able to pass our culture onto our children and grandchildren. 

Mr Kaeser, don’t be complicit in the destruction of my people’s country and culture. 

I have come here for accountability. 

Does Siemens accept that it is duty-bound under international law to respect the rights of Indigenous peoples to ensure our free, prior and informed consent? That the Carmichael mine does not have our free, prior and informed consent? And that Siemens did not do mandatory human rights due diligence before signing the contract with Adani?  

On these grounds, we call on Siemens to suspend its contract with Adani immediately. 

We have many more questions of you; questions we would have asked had you agreed to meet with me as an envoy of the Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners Family Council. Will you now commit to a meeting and to answering, in writing, further questions regarding your due diligence and the standards of FPIC you apply?

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