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24 Jul 2020

Lorena Allam, The Guardian

Aboriginal heritage: Gomeroi elders attack 'useless' law after Shenhua mine setback

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25 July 2020

Aboriginal heritage laws are "just useless" and work against the protection of sacred sites, according to the Gomeroi traditional custodians whose lands are in the path of the proposed Shenhua coalmine on the Liverpool plains of New South Wales.

But they say the federal Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act is all that stands in the way of the mine going ahead, leaving them "stuck between a rock and a hard place".


The environment minister has the power under the Act to protect areas if she is satisfied they are significant and under threat of injury or desecration. [...]

In the Gomeroi case, the minister, Sussan Ley, acknowledged the sites "retain immeasurable cultural values and connection to country" and are of "particular significance to Aboriginal people", but decided the mine's potential economic and social benefits outweighed their heritage value.

Gomeroi custodians had sued the minister in the federal court, alleging Ley made an error of law in deciding not to make a declaration to protect the Aboriginal heritage.


But [...] the federal court judge Wendy Abraham dismissed the case. The judge found that Ley was permitted to consider very broad, non-Indigenous matters in deciding to refuse protection for the ancient sites, which include ceremonial areas, large grinding groove sites, scarred trees, burial sites and artefacts.