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Backing the Adani end of town

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Lindy Nolan    17 January 2019

The anti-Adani fight has been a touchstone in the struggle for sovereignty. This unfolding story is the fourth in a series investigating ruptures in a carefully fostered pro-corporate united front among First Nations Peoples.

Alexander the Great’s dad knew he was on a good thing when he invented the strategy divide and conquer. Ruling classes have been using it ever since. 

Environmental activists and Aboriginal Peoples have much in common. But because First Nations have lived on every part of this land, wilderness is an alien concept. Nor have all environmental activists been respectful of Aboriginal Peoples, who have a sovereign right to live off their lands.

Corporations are the inheritors of British invasion, now organised as an imperialist ruling class. Its most reactionary section is the mining and resource industry, which has systematically turned the minor contradiction between First Nations and environmentalists into an antagonist one. 

Unfortunately, the industry has enabled and encouraged some like prominent First Nations’ academic, Marcia Langton, to do their dirty work. Rephrasing her own words about Jacinta Price in August last year, Marcia Langton is very ‘useful’ to mining corporations. Or at least she has been, an important distinction. In the past year she has made no pro-mining statements. 

“Marvellous work”
In 2012 Marcia Langton’s Boyer Lectures lauded the mining industry’s involvement in Aboriginal communities. On Yolngu land for the 2016 Garma Festival she stated, “Thank god the corporate sector's here doing their marvellous work”, particularly in providing work. 

Many First Nations Peoples are angered by what they have called her ‘empowerment through mining and jobs dogma’ and particularly her research funding from mining corporations. As late as July 2017 she was still praising mining companies. In June that year she attacked “deceptive” environmentalists for making heroes of “a small handful of Indigenous campaigners who oppose the legitimate interests of the majority of their own people.” 

These “‘cashed-up’ Greens… some funded by wealthy overseas interests” were her stated enemy. Her saviours? Foreign owned, multi-billion-dollar mining corporations paying little or no tax. Adani to be precise.

The case in question was being heard in the Federal Court. It challenged the validity of an Indigenous Land Use Agreement which Adani relies upon.

Neither ‘colonial oppressors’ nor ‘collateral damage’
But, according to Guardian Australia’s Joshua Robertson, Langton’s outburst brought a powerful rebuttal from Australia’s first Aboriginal Queens Counsel Tony McAvoy. Robertson said McAvoy, “a traditional owner fighting to stop Adani’s mine… dismissed claims by… Marcia Langton that Indigenous people had become ‘collateral damage’ as the ‘environmental industry’ hijacked the Adani issue.”

Robertson continued, “McAvoy said the rhetoric of Langton and Warren Mundine, who ‘likened anti-Adani campaigners to colonial oppressors running roughshod over Indigenous self-determination… serves a purpose for them but is just so inaccurate.’”

“We are likely to be one of the best informed claimant groups in the country, we have many people who are experienced in native title, including my own input, and representation by an extraordinary team of lawyers,” McAvoy told Roberson.

Whose law?
Langton continued leading the charge for the mining companies.

The Saturday Paper has a left-liberal readership. The overwhelming majority would oppose Adani. On July 1 Marcia Langton chose it to respond to McAvoy. The article aimed to break or neutralise support for McAvoy’s Wangan and Jagalingou People.

She reckoned she wasn’t not pro-Adani. But…
In her first paragraph she accused Adrian Burragubba, the main public face of the Traditional Custodians fighting the mine, of threatening the rights of the majority of native title holders not only in his own area, but Australia-wide. 

Then, like a coal company executive telling us climate science is far too difficult for mere mortals to understand, she said there were four Wangan and Jagalingou groups, all of which she listed. Which was the real deal?

She spoke of Burrangubba’s “minority faction of Wangan and Jagalingou people”. She stated, “The group to which Burragubba claims allegiance negotiated an ILUA , and at the critical meeting, as confirmed by a court of law, the members voted 294-1 in favour of approving it .” 

The meeting was boycotted by Adani opponents.

This court of law Langton refers to is not the Law of her Peoples, tens of thousands of years old. It’s the invaders’ law. That legal system is part of the superstructure of capitalism. It serves corporations. First Nations have often felt its boot on their necks.

In contrast, not a single corporate leader who knowingly profited from tobacco production or asbestos mining, for example, has faced a criminal court for their mass murder. 

A recent Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners Council statement casts light on Adani’s tactics leading up to the crucial vote: “Adani employs a member of the W&J community who was central to overturning our decisions to reject Adani’s land use deal, and presided over the collapse of a million-dollar W&J trust fund belonging to our people.

“We have experienced first hand the breach of trust, and the way Adani divides our people. And now over $1m of W&J People’s assets stand to be wiped out while we face mounting costs defending our lands and waters.”

Ms Irene Simpson, former controlling director of trustee company, Cato Galilee, has been referred to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. The company traded while insolvent before it was put into administration. A number of serious irregularities are being investigated. 

All expenses paid
Twiggy Forrest was the first to seek out and fly in Aboriginal Peoples who were prepared to support his company’s operations on First Nations’ land. Other corporations have followed suit.

The people at the meeting Langton referred to were sought from across Queensland and attended all expenses paid. This was organised by Queensland South Native Title Services Ltd, QSNTS. The company has a mostly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Board but is a federal government authority.

Applicants gave evidence that “Approximately 60 per cent of those people attending the authorisation meeting on April 2016 who claimed to be members of the Wangan & Jagalingou people had not been recorded by as attending any previous meeting of the Wangan & Jagalingou Native Title Claim group in respect of any aspect of the Native Title Claim.” 

Around 70 attendees were named individually or as family members, identifying not as Wangan and Jagalingou Peoples, but of other Peoples, all cited, including the Western Kangouli, Gunggari, Waka Waka and Iman. (Paragraph 136 of the judgement)

Anyone who has seen and heard Senior Women who hold the genealogical knowledge recite the names of their forebears and their detailed clan relationships, going back in time, know the power of this naming, the basis of that evidence.

QSNTS gave details of its own checks on attendees. It included asking people at the meeting to put up their hands if they were eligible members, though there was more to it than that. QSNTS’ details were accepted and the judgement went against those opposing the mine. Langton mentioned none of this.

No veto
Finally, in her article, came the most critical fact, buried in the third last paragraph. By then many readers would have been swayed or confused by her arguments.

“In an ideal world,” Langton wrote, “Aboriginal traditional owners should have a right to veto mining or any other development project. However, the Native Title Act does not give us that right, and stops well short of a veto by offering a ‘right to negotiate’.” 

So, rather than fighting for the right to stop mining or other unwanted developments, Marcia Langton attacked those who dared to protect sacred Country. 

Against First Nations’ aspirations, native title legislation was designed and amended by the likes of John Howard for just this purpose, to divide and rule.

Even worse, waving a huge stick against grassroots Peoples who dare to take on a mining company, Custodians were ordered to pay Adani’s costs. 

Adrian Burragubba is also being sued for bankruptcy, due to be heard in February.

Langton also alleged Burragubba had financial support from GetUp and the founder of Obviously, she’d decided his grassroots’ group should fund the fight against multi-billion-dollar Adani and the wider coal industry with no help.

Langton’s actions greatly assisted Adani, which has been subject to numerous overseas legal battles for alleged corruption and tax avoidance. 

Meanwhile, Adani’s new CEO Lucas Dow has begun to rebuild support for the project. (See some of Dow’s anti-worker history and more, here.) 
An appeal against the ruling will be heard later this year by the Full Federal Court. 

Courts are affected by the relative strength of the opponents. It was a cliché of industrial struggles that nothing was ever won in court that hadn’t been won on the ground. Mass unity of grassroots peoples can often counterbalance the mass of money and connections corporations can bring to bear.

Yet continued multinational domination benefits from such illusions of democracy. As long as the win doesn’t threaten the whole system… Then it becomes clear the only ones with real democracy are the ruling class. 

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples believe Marcia Langton’s role in undermining unity in the Adani case and others does her no credit. And that’s an understatement. 

Yet, sometimes what a person omits speaks more loudly than what they do say. For years Marcia Langton has also praised mining companies. No other First Nations’ person has been so vocal. Mining companies have made sure Australia heard the message. But since July 2017 she has, to this writer’s knowledge, been silent on the topic. 

Recently she’s disrupted the activities of former allies, like Warren Mundine, who continue to push the far right corporate agenda of attacking their own people. Mundine lacks Langton’s wide credibility. He’s widely seen as serving himself in his service to the ruling class.

Perfect rebuttal
On January 8, Adrian Burragubba wrote on Facebook, “Without a skerrick of evidence, Warren Mundine claims I'm being exploited by green groups. Lucas Dow, CEO of Adani Mining, says I'm being supported by the Sunrise Project and others in my court actions. Tania Constable of the Minerals Council bundles the serious legal proceedings my people have taken as nothing more than misuse and abuse of judicial processes.” Sound familiar? 

“I'm to be cast as the patsy, too dumb to know what's going on,” Burragubba said, his articulate response the perfect rebuttal. 

Lucas Dow has helped rebuild alliances between the corporate giants previous Adani leaders had put off-side. In late December he engineered a so-called start to Adani’s mine. It’s smoke and mirrors playing to soon-to-be-government Labor leaders. Plibersek says they may not be able to stop a project that’s already underway.

Meanwhile Peta Credlin may gain Liberal endorsement for a federal seat, with coal industry backing.

Leaders are important. So is each individual who takes a side for the people or against them. But only when grassroots’ peoples unite, empowered and educated, they can change the world. Adrian Burragubba and his W&J mob are helping make that a reality. 

For now, the anti-Adani fight will continue, no matter who’s in charge in the talking shop.


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