Perdaman's plans to relocate rock art for fertiliser plant feel 'rushed', traditional owners say
Documents seen by the ABC reveal ongoing concerns among traditional owners over a $4.5 billion fertiliser plant on Western Australia's Burrup Peninsula despite the company saying the project has the blessing of elders.
If the Perdaman project goes ahead, it will remove and relocate three sacred rock art sites.
Murujga Aboriginal Corporation (MAC) minutes dated January 31 this year, detail a meeting with the corporation, including board members, the Circle of Elders, and representatives from Perdaman and Clough, which were awarded the engineering, procurement and construction agreement.
The minutes show elders were "concerned at the relocation process" after a Perdaman/Clough presentation about rock art.
Raelene Cooper, a former MAC board director who resigned over the issue, was at the meeting and has seen a copy of the minutes.
"I was aware in the elders meeting that elders were being pressured. They weren't really up to date with the information put before them," Ms Cooper said.
"I simply asked if they realised or knew that rock art was going to be moved and they were all really concerned and said 'No, that can't happen'."
Ms Cooper said the January 31 meeting was also the first time in a long time that directors were invited to a meeting, and were only invited after requesting it.
In the meeting, one attendee said they only became aware of the Section 18 approval, which provided the landowner with legal consent to cause destruction, damage or alterations to an Aboriginal site under WA legislation, that day.
They said they had not had enough time to fully absorb the contents of the application.
Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek says an application for an emergency declaration on the area is being considered.
A corporation board member asked if the project was now at the point of seeking cultural approval.
More time was requested to discuss the Section 18 application before any decisions were made.
This was despite the fact the WA government had already approved the Section 18 application four days earlier.
Senior Yindijbarndi elder and member of the Circle of Elders Tootsie Daniel said she felt the consultation process was "rushed".
Ms Cooper agreed.
"These aren't the only elders in the community who should be speaking, there are other elders within the community that should be speaking," she said.
Perdaman says it has consulted extensively with the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation — an approved corporate body comprising five traditional language groups, and a Circle of Elders throughout the process.
MAC chief executive Peter Jeffries said considerable consultation did take place with his organisation but it was made clear it had no formal approval power.
While consultation with MAC did take place, this only occurred with a select few members of the corporation and Perdaman never put the project to the broader membership of 1,200 people, or the rest of the community.
MAC board directors are also bound by a confidentiality clause, preventing them from sharing such information with the membership.
Ms Cooper said the clause has been an issue.
"We were having our AGM and it still wasn't mentioned what was going on," she said.
Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek is considering a request to halt the project from traditional owners under Section 9 of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Act.
The WA government remains committed to its support for the project.
"Perdaman have done all the right things around getting their approvals — that's why we back it 100 per cent," Deputy Premier Roger Cook said.
Perdaman has been approached for comment.
We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians and Traditional Custodians of the lands where we live, learn, and work.
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