If we focused more on the political economy of the Galilee Basin coal complex we might see less aversive racism toward Traditional Owners

All of us privileged types exhibit aversive racism from time to time, some of the time, or all of the time, myself included. Aversive racism is a product of privilege.

Here’s a good definition of aversive racism.

Aversive racism can be defined as exhibiting racist tendencies while denying that those thoughts, behaviors, and motives are racist (Schneider, Gruman, and Coutts, 2012).

I don’t need to provide a dry definition of political economy here. I do need to point out that any serious analysis of political economy in relation to a development project like the Galilee Basin coal complex needs to identify and acknowledge all stakeholders in that economy, and all the legal and process based factors that can be exploited to enforce political will in shaping economic development. A person applying a political economy analysis has a professional and ethical obligation to look at all stakeholder groups without prejudice.

Traditional Owner Areas_map_Adani_March 2016_2
A map of the Traditional Owner groups along Adani’s preferred rail corridor, the North Galilee Basin Rail Project – released after February 20, 2018.

The above map ‘Attachment 2 – Map of Traditional Owner areas’ was supplied by Adani to the Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines (DNRM) in March 2016. It was included in a RTI disclosure that was made at some point after the last document modification date of February 20, 2018. RTI 15-315 contains only content and communications generated between February 3 and April 3, 2016. The recipient of the RTI disclosure cannot be provided by DNRM staff and neither can the dates the disclosure was made available to the recipient and/or the public.

I wish I had access to this map in January 2018. On January 24 the ABC published a piece by David Chen titled ‘Adani jobs in high demand as Indigenous groups call for a bigger share’. This article was shared in a Facebook post of a Queensland based activist group working on anti-Adani campaigns. The comments from followers of the Facebook page in response to this story demonstrate aversive racist assumptions about Indigenous people living in regional areas and their community members living in the big cities and regional centres. I would contend that these assumptions were cultivated by the media driven narrative of the StopAdani coalition and their allies.

Here’s a selection of comments that were captured on January 24, 2018. I will not be individually analysing each comment. I’d rather you interpret them for yourself after reading the article in question.

I thought that the indigenous people of Australia did not want their Mother Earth ripping apart. What are we fighting for if they don’t really care? They are expecting jobs that will not materialise.


Nobody but people set to make $$ want Adani, greed over our environment, they should be put behind bars and Adani should be kicked out of the country.


I’m sure most of the indigenous groups do not want this mine to go ahead.
It goes against their love of country.


Does this not go against everything the culture believes in.


I was of the opinion the that aboriginal groups are totally opposed to the mine?


We need to talk about what it’s really like to be a Traditional Owner/native title claimant.

The starting position for many Traditional Owners is an absolute desire for economic autonomy, and freedom from paternalism and the micromanagement of coloniser bureaucracy.

Traditional Owners are often presented with the threat of compulsory acquisition through discreet channels. This is what happened for all TOs along the North Galilee Basin Rail corridor. It is a strategy of non-cooperation exercised by governments in collusion with business interests. The collusive efforts of governments and business ensure they enter negotiations with a win-win strategy. Traditional Owners can only make themselves a stakeholder in protecting country through negotiating as the weaker party for the long haul to achieve some measure of agency and reasonable compensation.

The native title system is largely about managing extinguishment while affording a right to negotiate in order to protect rights and interests in country. The threat of compulsory acquisition or forced extinguishment fundamentally acts against the spirit of that right. The right to refuse, in most negotiations, does not exist.

The process of making a native title claim is long and can be excruciating while creating and exposing divisions. During and after the native title determination process Traditional Owners are compelled to negotiate and engage with corporate and government stakeholders with long-term plans for development. Most Traditional Owners have limited/problematic avenues for funding social programs and developing autonomy in the face of relentless pressure from resource companies and multiple levels of government. Add to this the fact that the most crucial bureaucratic functions performed in the native title sector are delivered by opaque organisations like Queensland South Native Title Services and the North Queensland Land Council who work with mining companies to deliver voting meetings and certify agreements along with providing enabling services like legal and technical support and representation within the native title system.


The truth doesn’t feel nice. What can we be passionate about?

It would be great if TOs had the choice to reject the deals put before them under our colonised/post colonial economy, but TO communities need services and jobs. Many TO communities need healing that can only be administered by themselves in their own way. If we want a country where TO communities have the autonomy to reject mines, rail lines, ports, dams, and other damaging developments then we need to start by looking at the political and economic truth of what is happening now. We need to look at the local economies and at the part to be played by the global economy. This is especially the case in relation to the Galilee Basin coal complex and the commodities we trade with the world to enable our consumer economy.

We can be passionate about getting to the truth and making our way to the point where TOs can negotiate from a position of strength. We can feel passionate about hearing and sharing the testimony of TOs in their struggle – whether it feels nice or not.



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