Wangan and Jagalingou representative who had backed an Indigenous land use agreement now says he opposes the mine
Adani has lost majority support from traditional owner representatives for a land access deal for its Queensland mine, casting doubt on moves to implement the agreement.
Craig Dallen, a Wangan and Jagalingou representative who last year backed an Indigenous land use agreement (Ilua) with the miner, now says he opposes a deal that will not make up for “the destruction the project will wreak upon the traditional culture and lands of our people”.
Dallen’s reversal, which came while he was sidelined from the decision-making process while in custody in a Queensland jail, has left the W&J representative group deadlocked on the Adani deal, with six in favour and six against.
But federal government native title amendments passed on Wednesday mean Adani’s agreement, unlike all future Iluas, do not need majority support to proceed.
However, Adani faces delays in executing the agreement because its supporters in the W&J native title applicant group have not had the numbers to pass any decisions since Dallen entered custody last November.
His split from the pro-Adani camp throws further doubt on how they will set up a cultural heritage program and a trust to receive money from the miner, both legal requirements of the Ilua.
The Ilua is critical to Adani gaining finance as many major banks subscribe to the equator principles, under which resource projects are not backed without traditional owner consent.
Dallen was one of seven W&J representatives who swung support behind an Ilua with Adani for the first time in January last year, a decision that required majority support in line with the terms of their appointment.
But under a native title amendment before the Senate, Adani’s application for an Ilua, would be deemed valid as it was made before 2 February.
It was not registered when the McGlade decision found Iluas needed all signatures of an Indigenous applicant group, not just a majority, to be valid.
The accompanying bill digest to the native title amendments notes that Adani’s proposed Ilua with the W&J would reportedly be knocked out by McGlade decision – which did the same for Iluas regarding the Noongar people of Western Australia – but the total number of such deals affected was “unknown”.
Dallen, in an affidavit seen by Guardian Australia, said he had “since had cause to reconsider my position”.
“I want to withdraw my signature on the Ilua,” he said. “I take this position because I do not believe that the Ilua adequately compensates us for the destruction the project will wreak upon the traditional culture and lands of our people.”
Dallen questioned the vetting of attendees of a W&J claim group meeting by Queensland South Native Title Service, W&J’s native title representatives, that voted in favour of the Adani Ilua in Maryborough last April.
He said that most in the meeting, which was boycotted by those opposing the deal, were “people I did not recognise as being members of our claim group”.
“Most importantly, I believe that QSNTS failed us by not ensuring that we were properly and independently advised on the benefits of entering the Adani Ilua,” Dallen said. “Only the benefits of entering the Ilua were discussed.”
In a letter to Dallen’s daughter on 9 February, a lawyer acting for W&J in Adani negotiations, Philip Hunter, said: “Having regard to your father’s current circumstances it is difficult for us at the moment to convene any meetings of the applicant as we need to have a quorum of the persons who comprise the applicant (ie 7 of the 12).”
Hunter said that as a consequence it had been difficult “to progress the implementation of the Ilua” and other elements including, the setting up a new trust to receive funds from the miner.The W&J group also needs to appoint a committee to oversee cultural heritage work for Adani, which includes the mapping and storage of cultural artefacts when the mine and rail sites are cleared.A failure to carry out these steps according to the terms of the Ilua risks jeopardising its legal status and opening it to further challenge by its opponents.
Guardian Australia understands Adani told its W&J supporters that it wanted to begin cultural heritage work as soon as its billionaire chairman, Gautam Adani, gave the project the “green light”.
It is understood an Adani executive expressed concern that cultural heritage works, which would account for the bulk of the company’s initial budget working with the W&J, could hold up other parts of the project before Adani seeks to clinch bank finance next year.
Adani had flagged the end of 2017 as the deadline for financial closure but a spokesman told Bloomberg last week it would be March next year, the latest in a long series of delays for the project.
That coincided last week with the federal court setting down a trial for next March to decided the fate of the Ilua, which is contested by Adani opponents within W&J.