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Judge rejects anti-coal lawsuit and orders activist to pay legal fees

Veronica Talbott and Environmental Defenders Office staff
Veronica Talbott (centre left), brother Steve (right) and Environmental Defenders Office staff

An Indigenous Australian has lost her judicial bid to stop a $1 billion coal project in New South Wales’ North West Slope region.

The Federal Court dismissed Veronica Talbott’s claim against Shenhua Group’s new Shenhua Watermark Coal Mine in Breeza, 62km southwest of Tamworth.

Activist pays legal expenses

Justice Wendy Abraham rejected the Gomeroi woman’s allegation that Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley unlawfully put potential economic and social benefits of the project above the heritage value of nearby Aboriginal sites. Talbott was ordered to pay the government’s legal defence expenses of up to $1000.

“As is plain from the operation of the Heritage Act, ‘parliament’s desired end’ is not that a declaration is to be made at all costs, without a consideration of countervailing matters and interests,” the judge said according to the Australian Associated Press (AAP).

1000 jobs safe

A spokesperson for the minister said the judgment shows the government is completely within its rights to help create 600 construction jobs and a further 434 positions once the mine is operational.

Positions will be advertised here.

To help prevent further lawsuits from delaying much-needed jobs, the minister will organise a roundtable meeting with state Indigenous and environment ministers to discuss a variety of issues.

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Talbott, whose lawsuit was backed by the Environmental Defenders Office, was disappointed with losing the lawsuit. She called the decision a failure on the government’s part to protect culturally significant Aboriginal sites from “injury or desecration” under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection (ATSIHP) Act.

“The decision demonstrates the abject failure of the ATSIHP Act to provide meaningful protection for areas of particular significance to Aboriginal people,” she said in a statement according to AAP.

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