Minister’s indecision causes trauma for Gomeroi Elders and community

Gomeroi Elders and community are today demanding that Environment Minister Greg Hunt urgently invoke a 48 hour stay of works order under Section 18 of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act in a desperate attempt to save burials sites and sacred places from Whitehaven Coal’s bulldozers.

Gomeroi people are distraught that Whitehaven Coal Maules Creek have carte blanche approval to destroy sacred sites and family burials important to Gomeroi Elders and Gomeroi knowledge holders while the Abbott government bungles protection of culture and heritage.

Elders and community say, “Minister Hunt has had our urgent Section 9 temporary and Section 10 permanent application under the Commonwealth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Impact Heritage Protection Act (ATSIHP Act) to save sacred sites and ancestral burials for 79 days but has failed to make a decision. The excuse of tossing the application between Minister Hunt’s office and Senator Scullion’s office like a hot potato over this time is beyond belief”.

“We simply cannot understand why it takes 79 days to declare a stay of works. We have still had no response from the Minister Hunt’s office regarding our application, and have had to find out what the Minister is doing via the media. The Minister knows the bulldozers have been destroying our culture and heritage all day, every day including the weekend, for over a fortnight now.

Our Elders ask, “What’s the point in having culture and heritage protection legislation if the Abbott Government cannot even provide a temporary protection to put a halt to works while Minister Hunt considers our more permanent protection application?

A spokesman for Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, told ABC radio on Friday 17 January that the “Minister will look at the claims made by the Gomeroi traditional owners very carefully to ensure Whitehaven works respectfully and constructively with the local community and traditional owners to avoid unnecessary disputes.”

Gomeroi Elders say, “This does not stop Whitehaven from just ripping the guts out of our sacred sites right now. We fear that by the time Minister Hunt finally decides he has finished looking at our application carefully, it will be too late.”

Gomeroi Elders and community members have issued a further statement today (attached) again imploring Federal Environment Minister Hunt to please take urgent and immediate action to protect their ancestor’s graves and sacred sites at the Maules Creek mine operated by Whitehaven in regional NSW.

“We will be having a series of spiritual ceremonies and rolling range of protests which is building momentum until this matter is addressed. Our message is simple: we will not be going away and we will not be silenced.”

EVENT: A community ceremony and protest in Gunnedah has been called by Gomeroi Elders for January 24 to voice these demands. Further details to be announced.