Saving the sacred Aboriginal lands of the Pilliga was the subject of impassioned speeches delivered at IEU Council on 18 March.
The speakers were Paddy Gibson, Senior Researcher with the Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research at the University of Technology and Suellyn Tighe, a member of the Gomeroi Nation who has voted against accepting an agreement with Santos to develop a coal-seam gas project on her ancestral lands.
The pair thanked the IEU and the union movement in general for its support in the campaign to prevent the gas development, which Suellyn said would destroy a place that is crucial to her culture, but also to the environment.
Paddy said, “How do we deal with this horrible situation we find ourselves in where we’re facing a climate emergency, and yet our political and economic system seems committed to expand the fossil fuel industry indefinitely”?
“How are we going to grapple with the incredible power that these companies have and the extent to which they seem to have captured all levels of government in Australia?
“I think we need to be thinking about the scale of social movement that stopped the Vietnam War.
“Go out onto the streets and say this is an unacceptable situation. One of the biggest projects that’s going to have the worst impact on the climate is the Santos project in the Pilliga.”
Paddy said it’s not just the astronomical emissions from burning the gas, but the mining of the gas that will cause “fugitive emissions” worse than an aluminum smelter.
He said stopping the project was a “big fight”, as it had the backing of all levels of government.
“We need to recognise the significance of the fight for First Nations rights as being central to any idea of climate justice or any transformation that we’re going to carry through.
“In Australia, the Native Title Act is grossly unfair, grossly unjust. It says if a resource company wants to operate on their land, without the agreement of the Aboriginal people, they can do so if the tribunal rules it to be in the national interest.
“There’s only been three times in history the court ever knocked back one of these applications from a resource company in favour of Aboriginal people.
“In December there was a disgraceful judgment in the Native Title Tribunal, which said the economic benefit from the Santos project outweighs the cultural concerns and the loss the Gomeroi people will suffer.
Suellyn Tighe said the Gomeroi faced a David and Goliath battle but they wanted their voice to be heard.
“We have no slingshot. We are stripped by legislation that is designed to defraud First Nations Peoples of their land. The current battle faced by the Gomeroi people is an is an excellent example of that,” Suellyn said.
“We stand to lose an integral component of communal custodial lands. The Pilliga forest is our umbilical tether to our identity and culture.
“Our cultural responsibilities is to look after all the animals that live on our land and the water.
“My understanding is this is the first time a global warming argument about impacts on cultures across the world was made and it was denied by the Native Title Tribunal.
“We need to call out the government. You cannot be saying that you are a green government on one hand and giving permission for 850 gas wells with a the other.
“Gomeroi has used their voice for over 10 years with consecutive governments and no one is listening.”
Paddy said, “We have the union movement on paper committed to this campaign. Please investigate these issues. Understand more deeply how dispossessed Aboriginal people are in a state like NSW, where the resource industry can run over the top of them”.
On World Environment Day, Monday 5 June, the Sydney Climate Coalition are organising a protest at Hyde Park North, with a march to NSW Parliament with two demands on the new Parliament: no new coal and gas and repeal the anti-protest laws. The IEU supports this action.