Youth Verdict and Bimblebox Alliance victory over Clive Palmer coal mine after historic human rights and nature legal decision

Environmental Defenders Office, Youth Verdict and the Bimblebox Alliance

Editors’ note: Media images from today’s court hearing will be available here from approx 2:30pm:

A Queensland court has found Clive Palmer’s proposed Waratah Coal Project should be rejected after a historic legal challenge by Youth Verdict and The Bimblebox Alliance.

Represented by the Environmental Defenders Office, Youth Verdict and The Bimblebox Alliance argued coal from the mine would impact the human rights of First Nations Peoples by contributing to dangerous climate change.

They also argued the mine would destroy the Bimblebox Nature Refuge, which sits on top of the proposed mine site on Wangan and Jagalingou Country.

In May, the court travelled to Erub (Darnley) Island and Poruma (Coconut) Island in the Torres Strait to hear first-hand how climate change is negatively impacting communities and eroding their ability to practise culture — legally protected by cultural and human rights.

First Nations witnesses gave evidence from the frontlines: from Zenadth Kes (Torres Strait) islands of Erub and Poruma; where the rising sea is eating away at villages; to Gimuy (Cairns) where heat waves are killing off flying foxes; to Hopevale where climate change is disrupting the seasons, leaving witness Uncle Harry unable to pass on traditional hunting practices.

This is the first time an Australian court has heard evidence on-Country against a coal mine and according to First Nations protocols.

Today, President Fleur Kingham of the Queensland Land Court recommended Waratah Coal’s application for a mining lease and environmental approval for the project should be rejected by the Queensland Government.

In delivering her decision, President Kingham recommended the Mining Lease and Environmental Approval should be refused on environmental, climate and human rights grounds.

The President relied on the human rights grounds for both the Bimblebox Nature Refuge, including the property rights of the Bimblebox Refuge landholders, and the cultural rights of First Nations peoples impacted by climate change to make her landmark decision.

“The mine risks unacceptable climate impacts to Queensland people and property,” she said.

The President thanked First Nations witnesses — many of whom travelled to Brisbane for the hearing — for their hospitality and the sharing of their cultural knowledge during on-Country evidence.

Youth Verdict First Nations Lead and Co-director Murrawah Johnson said: “We are overjoyed. The voices of First Nations Queenslanders have been heard. A court has recognised the human and cultural rights of First Nations peoples are impacted by climate change and has recommended that this mine not be approved.

“As a Wirdi woman, I am proud that this case was able to raise the bar for the respect given to First Nations knowledge and customs in the western courtroom. We are excited that we were able to use the Human Rights Act to advocate for changes to Land Court process based on cultural rights grounds.

“All environmental approvals or mining leases should have to consider their impact on First Nations cultural and human rights. Now the government must accept the court’s recommendation and reject Palmer’s Galilee Coal Project approvals.

“Billionaire Clive Palmer wants to line his pockets by building a new coal mine in a time when we must move away from extractive industries that destroy Country and fuel climate change. First Nations peoples will not stand by while coal-fuelled climate change destroys our Countries and further threatens our connections to culture.

“First Nations peoples must have decision-making power over our Country, our lives and our futures. By continuing to fight for First Nations cultural rights, we’re fighting for a safe and healthy climate for us all.

“We would like to thank our First Nations witnesses, who welcomed the court onto their Countries and told their stories. For some of them, this has been a chance to share with the world their deep knowledge and understanding of Country and its ecosystems and wildlife.

“For others it was a moment to share the pain of the loss of place, of culture that they are already experiencing due to climate impacts like sea-level rise and heatwaves. We could not be more grateful and humbled by the heartfelt evidence they gave during the on-Country hearings. Thank you.”

Bimblebox Nature Refuge co-owner Paola Cassoni said: “This is a huge sigh of relief for us after the 15 years’ nightmare of fighting this mining project. Hopefully we can now go back, with the help of our volunteers, to fully concentrate on looking after Bimblebox.”

EDO Managing lawyer Sean Ryan said: “This is a great day for nature conservation and our climate.

“It’s also a hugely significant legal victory for First Nations peoples seeking to protect their cultures and communities from the impacts of climate change. Fossil fuel companies and their financiers across Queensland should now look closely at today’s outcome and consider whether or not their proposals are compatible with human rights.

“At over 2 billion tonnes of carbon emissions, this mine would have had a significant impact. It’s possible to have a safe climate without this coal mine – but we can’t have one with it.”

“Our clients successfully struck at the heart of the main cause of accelerating climate impacts on their land and sea country, which is coal.

“This win keeps billions of tonnes of carbon stored safely in the ground where it belongs.”

The court has found that the impacts of this mine on the hugely important and much-loved Bimblebox Nature Refuge are too great.

“The Bimblebox Nature Refuge is irreplaceable. It is a wildlife haven teeming with life including a known 668 species of native plants and animals.

“More than 20 years since a group of locals invested their hard-earned savings to purchase property, the Bimblebox landholders and volunteers have kept their end of the bargain to protect this land in perpetuity.

“Allowing Bimblebox to be destroyed would have undermined the entire nature refuge program.

“The final decision on whether or not to grant Waratah’s mining lease and environmental approval falls to the Queensland Resources Minister and the Environment Department. We urge the government to act swiftly and in accordance with the court’s findings.

“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the First Nations witnesses who gave such compelling evidence about how climate change is already impacting them, their cultures and communities. This case has set a new standard for how First Nations communities can object to fossil fuel proposals that threaten their cultures and ways of life.”

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