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Green light for contentious WA urea plant

The Albanese government has given the developers of a West Australian fertiliser plant the green light to proceed despite fears for its impact on sacred rock art.

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek has rejected an application to pause works on Perdaman’s urea plant near Karratha in WA’s Pilbara region.

The $4.3 billion project is located on Murujuga country, home to more than a million petroglyphs dating back over 40,000 years.

Murujuga traditional custodians Raelene Cooper and Josie Alec had sought a 60-day moratorium on works under section 9 of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act.

Ms Plibersek, who met with stakeholders during a visit to the Pilbara last week, on Tuesday said she was comfortable with the project proceeding.

She recognised the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation and their Circle of Elders as the most representative organisation on cultural knowledge for the five traditional owner groups in the region.

“The Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation does not support the making of the Section 9 declaration, based on agreements they made with (Perdaman) on the appropriate cultural treatment of the sites,” Ms Plibersek said in a statement.

“Traditional owners – like any group – can sometimes have different views.

“I am satisfied, however, that the (Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation) are the legally constituted and democratically elected group that safeguards First Nations culture in the Burrup area.”

Ms Cooper and Ms Alec said the minister’s decision had been made based on “faulty reasoning and false conclusions”.

They claimed members of the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation had been gagged from expressing opposition.

“Last month, the whole community came together in the largest ever protest on the Burrup and marched to the proposed Perdaman site, where sacred rock art will be removed and desecrated,” they said in a statement released by the Save our Songlines group.

“It is incoherent and dangerous to refuse to protect these sacred sites on Murujuga while the minister is still considering a cultural heritage assessment under Section 10 of the Act.”

WA’s Labor government has consistently affirmed its support for the Perdaman project, saying it had received all appropriate environmental and heritage approvals.

An application was submitted in 2020 for the Burrup Peninsula to be granted UNESCO world heritage status.

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