After consulting traditional owners about the potential damage on historic indigenous rock art, Australia’s environment minister rejected a request to halt building of a A$4.5 billion ($3.1 billion) fertiliser plant on Tuesday.

Over the reservations of several indigenous women, the government agreed with the request of the local indigenous representative group to proceed with the plant.

Under a legislation preserving indigenous heritage, two Murujuga indigenous women asked the government last month to stop Perdaman Chemicals and Fertilisers from starting construction on a urea factory on Western Australia’s Burrup Peninsula. 

The Burrup Peninsula is home to over a million rock sculptures, some of which are over 40,000 years old and have been proposed for UNESCO World Heritage status. These properties are close to an industrial area that already has two liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants and two fertiliser plants.

Tanya Plibersek, the Environment Minister, stated that she opted not to halt construction because the Murujuga Aboriginal Corp (MAC) was the “most representative organisation” for the five traditional owner groups in the area and they did not want to prevent the urea factory from proceeding.

Plibersek stated that the MAC has reached agreements with Perdaman over the appropriate cultural treatment of the sites, including the relocation of part of the rock art.

The two women who attempted to halt building of the urea factory are members of a group called Save our Songlines, which claims that the MAC and its Circle of Elders do not reflect their views.

“Traditional Owners – like any group – can sometimes have different views,” Plibersek remarked.

“I am satisfied, however, that the MAC are the legally constituted and democratically elected group that safeguards First Nations culture in the Burrup area,” Plibersek said in a statement.

Plibersek stated that she is still considering filing a separate application to prohibit building under the Aboriginal Heritage Protection Act.

“The community, the country and the whole world will be outraged if this leads to another Juukan Gorge because the federal government would not stand up to industry and protect sacred Aboriginal sites from further desecration,” Save our Songlines spokeswomen Raelene Cooper and Josie Alec said in a statement.

Juukan Gorge was an old cave destroyed by multinational miner Rio Tinto in 2020 for an iron ore mine, causing severe anguish among traditional owners and a public outrage.

Source: Reuters

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