Plibersek urged to halt 'mind-blowing' fertiliser plan for Indigenous site

·Environment Editor
·4-min read

Approving the removal of cultural sites to make way for a fertiliser plant is just the latest act of “genocide” against Indigenous people, traditional custodians say.

Murujuga women are calling on the Commonwealth to intervene after the Western Australian state government gave multinational Perdaman permission to commence construction on the remote Burrup peninsula.

They're hoping to stop the removal of at least three significant rock art collections from the area.

Tanya Plibersek has been urged to block work on the construction of a urea plant (right) which is home to cultural sites. Source: AAP / Supplied
Tanya Plibersek has been urged to block work on the construction of a urea plant (right) which is home to cultural sites. Source: AAP / Supplied

Traditional custodian Raelene Cooper told Yahoo News Australia it is "disgusting" that the state government would allow a fertiliser plant to be built on a cultural site.

Noting the French government would never permit such a construction on the Notre Dame Cathedral, Ms Cooper questioned why Australian authorities would green-light “this sort of behaviour to happen here”.

“(Other governments) adore these items, and these ancient relics, to them they are very significant,” she said.

The Murujuga is home to the world's oldest Indigenous rock art and several industrial facilities. Source: Supplied / Nancye Miles-Tweedie
The Murujuga is home to the world's oldest Indigenous rock art and several industrial facilities. Source: Supplied / Nancye Miles-Tweedie

Perdman's plan is to construct facilities to create urea using gas from Woodside Energy's nearby Scarborough project.

It is one of a number of projects which some traditional custodians and environmentalists say are damaging cultural sites.

This month Ms Cooper spoke before the United Nations in Geneva, warning about the impact of industrial operations across the region.

Building fertiliser plant on Indigenous site 'mind-blowing'

The Burrup Peninsula, also known as Murujuga, contains cultural items that are at least 30,000 years old, including depictions of Tasmanian tigers which once roamed the mainland.

Rock art at the Perdaman site cannot be pictured due to its cultural significance.

There are over 1 million pieces of rock art at Murujuga. Source: Ray Dahlstrom
There are over one million pieces of rock art at Murujuga. Source: Ray Dahlstrom

The Murujuga region contains the world’s oldest and largest collection of Indigenous rock art and has been nominated for UNSECO World Heritage listing.

“The government thought that Murujuga was top of the list to be a UNESCO World Heritage site, then turns around and in the same breath agrees to these developments. It's mind-blowing,” Ms Cooper said.

Prior to approving the project, Western Australia's government consulted with the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation (MAC), which has representatives from five traditional Pilbara language groups.

"MAC are a strong, independent voice for their culture, heritage and land," a government spokesperson said.

Ms Cooper was the chairperson of MAC until 2021 when she left the organisation, citing concerns about a lack of consultation or consent by industries operating on Aboriginal land.

A state government spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia that projects at the site are "critical" to the economy and it is "a priority that these co-exist harmoniously with the surrounding cultural heritage".

"The State Government recognises Murujuga as a vital part of Western Australia's cultural heritage and its immense significance to the traditional owners," it said.

Plibersek responds to call to protect Indigenous site

Ms Cooper and other traditional custodians have urged Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek and Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney to halt Perdaman’s construction plans in order to protect the site.

Having already asked Minister Ley’s predecessor to intervene, this is their third call for help.

They are calling for Minister Plibersek to use her emergency powers under Section 9 and Section 10 of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act.

In a statement provided to Yahoo News Australia, Minister Plibersek confirmed she had received an application to intervene from two traditional owners.

"As this is under assessment I cannot comment further," she said.

Critics of Perdaman's project have compared it to Rio Tinto blowing up sacred Indigenous caves at Juukan Gorge which contained evidence of continuous human occupation for over 46,000 years.

Earlier today, following her National Press Club address, Ms Plibersek described its destruction as “one of the most shameful chapters in Australian history”.

Minister Burney has also been contacted for comment. At the time of publishing, Perdaman was yet to respond to a question about the project from Yahoo News Australia.

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