Legislative Council

QUESTION: Aboriginal heritage threatened by underground coal gasification project at Leigh Creek

July 26th, 2016

On 26th July 2016 Mark asked the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation questions about protecting Aboriginal heritage from underground coal gasification mining activities at Leigh Creek.
The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: The area around Leigh Creek contains important Aboriginal sites in the stories of Yurlu, the kingfisher, and Akurra, the dreamtime serpents. Leigh Creek is the home of a now closed coalmine: however, it is also the location of a new project to exploit the gas resources contained within the coal deposits through a controversial process known as underground coal gasification, or in situ gasification. The company involved is Leigh Creek Energy Limited, which members will recall is the new incarnation of Marathon Resources Limited, the company that was thrown out of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary for its appalling environmental practices.

There is great concern amongst members of the Adnyamathanha community that these gas extraction activities are now disturbing an important Aboriginal site. Under section 23 of the Aboriginal Heritage Act, it is unlawful to damage, disturb or interfere with any Aboriginal site without the authority of the minister. Breaching section 23 can attract fines of up to $50,000 or imprisonment for up to six months.

My questions of the minister are:

1. Has the minister approved the activities of Leigh Creek Energy or its contractors under section 23 of the Aboriginal Heritage Act?

2. If not, what is the minister doing to ensure the act is enforced?
The Hon. K.J. MAHER  (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation): I thank the honourable member for his question in relation to Aboriginal heritage in the areas around Leigh Creek, the traditional land of the Adnyamathanha people. I, too, have had it expressed (and I have met a number of times with various representatives of the Adnyamathanha people, both from ATLA and other groups, about a whole range of issues over the last three or four months), and as I understand it one of the concerns that has been raised is about exploration around the area of the Leigh Creek coalfields.

My department has checked the register for Aboriginal sites and objects, and I am advised that in the general area there are three registered sites. I am further advised that the closest site is some 635 metres from the nearest activity, so there is no activity within sites that are registered, but my department has advised me that they have engaged with Leigh Creek Energy to remind them of the requirements under the Aboriginal Heritage Act and, if sites are to be disturbed, the processes under the Aboriginal Heritage Act.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: Supplementary: are only registered sites protected under section 23? 

The Hon. K.J. MAHER  (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation):  It is not only registered sites—the honourable member is correct. Whether or not it is endorsed on a central register does not make it not a site, but they have been advised that there are three recorded sites. Certainly, if there is damage to any Aboriginal sites or objects under the Aboriginal Heritage Act, that will open up the processes under the act.

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