Blue skies and prejudice hide a toxic legacy

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Imagine if someone rented your house, threw several parties, ripped paint off the walls, ruined the rugs, and destroyed the house entirely.

Then when their tenancy ended, they returned the keys with no compensation, no repair or replacement, and no liability?

At the very least, you would like to use the link to put it back into a liveable state.

In 2014, when the Banjima people had their indigenous title determined, the court recognized that they had a sovereign right over their country.

But at the very heart of their country, there are massive areas of contaminated land that is currently unusable.

This land is a real and present danger to humans and wildlife, and the Washington state government is simply moving too slowly to address the damage that has occurred under its watch.

The Wittenoom Asbestos Management Area covers almost 47,000 ha, which is approximately 20 times the size of the Perth Local Government Area or one and a half times the size of the country of Malta.

This land north of Karijini National Park is affected by deadly asbestos contamination from three historic and now abandoned mines that began mining around 100 years ago.

The Wittenoom, Colonial and Vampire Mines and their owners are long gone and now the land is grim and threatening as a source of continued asbestos contamination.

Mountains of asbestos residue heal the soil and when it rains, the killer fibers are released into the downstream environment where they dry up and disperse into the air.

The moral responsibility to clean up this mess lies with the state, which holds the mineral rights.

The WA government received a report from respected engineering consultants GHD in 2006 that outlined the controls that needed to be in place to make the earth safe again.

Yet in 2021, 15 years later, the state says the highest priorities for legacy mine rehabilitation are elsewhere and Wittenoom is not on the list of Mine Rehabilitation Fund funding. This fund collects bonds from mining companies to deal with old abandoned mines.

By presenting the Wittenoom closing invoice earlier this year to relocate the city’s last two non-indigenous residents, Lands Minister Tony Buti described it as “one of Australia’s worst industrial disasters which claimed thousands of lives and the classification of the region as the largest contaminated site in the southern hemisphere “.

Minister Buti was right on this point.

However, perhaps demonstrating his greenness as a minister or his unfamiliarity with the seriousness of the problem, he added that the Wittenoom closing invoice was a significant step forward in resolving this long-standing industrial tragedy and would end a “dark period in the history of our state’s mine closures.”

But that won’t be the end.

And blue sky does not mean healthy country.

When the push comes to pushing, the Wittenoom closing invoice gives effect to only one of the 24 recommendations made by GHD in 2006.

The National Indigenous Times supports the efforts of the people of Banjima to cope with this living nightmare in their country, as the state sits on their hands and watches interest build up on approximately $ 200 million in the Rehabilitation Fund. mining.

Of that fund, only half a million dollars was spent on the rehabilitation of actual mining areas, with a total of zero for Wittenoom.

Despite the turn it has taken on the subject, no praise should be given to a government that acts on only one of the 24 recommendations, 15 years too late.

It is a state disgrace and a national disgrace.

The people of Banjima deserve better, Mark McGowan has made COVID-19 public safety the state’s highest priority, so should the health of Banjima and all Western Australians when it comes to fiber asbestos.

It is time to put aside the prejudices, the political game and work to tackle the largest contaminated site in the southern hemisphere.

It is time to use the Mining Rehabilitation Fund for its purpose – to rehabilitate the country of Banjima.

The Banjima deserve better than this WA Government Blue Sky Spin and Bias.

By Wayne Bergmann and Clinton Wolf

Wayne Bergmann and Clinton Wolf are the owners of the National Indigenous Times.


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