SEVEN heart attacks in four years, renal failure, kidney disease and a host of other chronic illnesses; Corina Abraham says she’s got nowhere left to turn except palliative care.
But the Whadjuk Noongar elder says despite the bleak prognosis her spirits are high because she’s found her purpose — to stop Roe Highway ramming through Bibra Lake.
On Wednesday her legal team lodged writs against WA Aboriginal affairs minister Peter Collier and members of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs’ cultural materials committee.
The writs allege the committee denied Ms Abraham procedural fairness by not re-consulting her when it overturned a previous recommendation opposing the highway.
Ms Abraham’s case is being run pro bono by Greg McIntyre QC, who launched Eddie Mabo’s landmark land rights case in 1992 and last year had a win against the department over its delisting of Port Hedland harbour as an Aboriginal heritage site.
Mr McIntyre QC says the Port Hedland case was also partially won on the basis of procedural fairness, but was more cut and dried than Ms Abraham’s because the Aboriginal claimants were the only ones involved in the consultation.
Ms Abraham and her late father were amongst a number of people originally consulted.
The QC said procedural fairness was derived from common law, and they wouldn’t be claiming the department had breached its own internal policies or procedures.
That brought down the Environment Protection Authority’s approval of the Beeliar section of the highway in December when the Supreme Court ruled it had ignored its own policies.
Mr McIntyre says if they win, they’ll be seeking a declaration that the ACMC’s recommendation is invalid and it should be sent back for reconsideration.
They’ll also be seeking an injunction against Mr Collier to prevent him making a decision based on that recommendation until the issue is reheard.
Having the decision revisited often leads to the same outcome, but in this case it could push the issue out past next February’s election, and if Labor wins it’s promised to ditch Roe altogether.
Mr Collier wouldn’t comment directly on the writ itself, but when Greens MLC Robin Chapple linked it to changes proposed for the Aboriginal heritage act, he accused him of scaremongering.
“This state government has a strong commitment to the protection of Aboriginal heritage,” Mr Collier said.
“Mr Chapple is using this legal challenge to scaremonger and confuse the debate around the proposed amendments to the Aboriginal heritage act.
“The portion of the Roe 8 project that is within a registered Aboriginal heritage site is located at a previously disturbed stretch along Hope Road. It remains a site that is protected.
“The protection of Aboriginal heritage is not straightforward, particularly when working with a broken piece of legislation that we are attempting to fix.”
Ms Abraham can trace her family back 12 generations, and is directly related to Calyute, one of the few survivors of the Pinjarra Massacre. She likens the push for a highway through the wetlands — in Whadjuk lore home to the Wagyl serpent — to Turkey’s plans to push a road through Gallipoli. She says it’s hypocritical for Australia’s white leaders to moan about the Gallipoli decision, but have no qualms about destroying much older indigenous cultural sites.
by STEVE GRANT