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The six clauses Traditional Owners say gag them from raising Murujuga concerns

Tom Zaunmayr -

A group of Pilbara Traditional Owners have urged the WA Government in a letter to scrap clauses they say are stifling their ability to raise concerns about industrial development on Murujuga.

Among those to sign a letter addressed to WA Premier Mark McGowan and Woodside were elders, signatories of the 2003 state agreement and prominent emerging local Indigenous leaders.

Ex-Murujuga cultural advisor Patrick Churnside said there was no doubt in his mind the BMIEA contained suppression clauses.

"Its basically cultural genocide to us - we have no say, we are suppressed," he said.

The main clause opponents to the BMIEA argue is a gag order on Traditional Owners

"I see some of those leaders and sadly to me they like they're sitting in the back of the bus getting told what to do, where to go and when they're going to go there.

"When we stand here today and say your law is affecting our law, your legislation is destroying our heritage, when are we going to see change."

At the heart of the letter are six clauses in the 2003 Burrup and Maitland Industrial Estate Agreement which opponents argue limit Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation's capacity to raise First Nations' concerns against industry on the peninsula.

The key sticking point is a no objections clause which states "the contracting parties will not, in their capacity as owners of the Burrup non-industrial land, lodge or cause to be lodged any objection to development proposals".

"The contracting parties will not commence any proceedings against the State, LandCorp or a proponent in respect of anything done or not done by the State, LandCorp or a proponent," another clause reads.

Aboriginal rock art quoll and rock wallaby. (Permission granted)

A WA Government spokesman said claims of gag orders in the BMIEA were unfounded.

"For all proposed developments in the BMIEA, the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation, who represents the five Traditional Owners Groups and the Circle of Elders, is consulted extensively," he said.

"There is nothing in the BMIEA agreement preventing MAC, contracting parties, or individual members of those groups from providing submissions under any legislation to protect the cultural and heritage values of Murujuga.

"The State Government encourages project proponents to obtain informed consent from the Traditional Owners for any activities undertaken in the Burrup Strategic Industrial Area."

Former Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation chairwoman Raelene Cooper said concerns about 'gag orders' in the BMIEA had long been held by Traditional Owners.

"Statements have been raised and made in regards to the gag clause, that there is no gag clause, however I would object to that because of the wording," she said.

"When custodians are not able to dispute, object or have a say in development on sacred land that is incredibly disappointing."

A Woodside spokesperson said there were no gag orders in its own agreements with Traditional Owners outside of the BMIEA, which it was not a party too.

"Traditional Owners are not restricted or prevented from expressing their concerns and are actively invited to express their views and participate in regulatory processes," the spokesperson said.

"Our consultation to date has responded to Traditional Owners' requests for further information and investigations - including environmental monitoring, archaeological and ethnographic surveys and access to independent expert advice - and the feedback we have received from Traditional Owners has directed our project and cultural heritage management.

"We respect a diversity of views in the community and are pleased with the support we have from Traditional Owners for our activities."

The spokesperson said the authors of the letter had been invited to meet with Woodside.

Other demands in the letter included funding Murujuga programs without caveats, and halting progress on several industrial projects pending provision of further environmental and cultural impact information.

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