Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek has reached an agreement for a 30-day halt to the development of a Western Australian fertiliser plant that Indigenous leaders say threatens ancient rock art.
Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney confirmed Ms Plibersek had sought assurances from Perth-based Perdaman that work would be halted until a decision on a 60-day work embargo was made.
"Perdaman has agreed to cease work while the application is being decided," Ms Burney told the ABC.
Perdaman last week received state approval to proceed with ground disturbance works for the $4.3 billion project on Murujuga country, near Karratha, in WA's Pilbara region.
Traditional owners in Western Australia have asked the Albanese government to stop the development amid fears pollution from the plant will greatly accelerate the degradation of 40,000 year-old rock art.
Murujuga custodians Raelene Cooper and Josie Alec wrote to the two ministers seeking a 60-day moratorium on works under federal heritage laws.
They also requested the appointment of a reporter to assess the cultural heritage impacts of industry on the Burrup Peninsula under section 10 of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act.
Ms Alec said she was relieved Ms Plibersek had intervened to order a temporary pause on works.
"However, that is only a short-term stopgap and we have been sidelined and silenced many times before," she said.
Perdaman has previously said the project will have minimal impact on rock art.
Ms Burney and Ms Plibersek will meet with the Aboriginal Heritage Alliance during the first sitting of parliament, which will resume on July 26.
An application was submitted in 2020 for the Burrup Peninsula to be granted UNESCO world heritage status.
Traditional owners are also worried about the impact on rock art from emissions generated by Woodside's operations on the Burrup Peninsula.
WA's Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has recommended Woodside be allowed to extend the life of its North West Shelf project through to 2070.
The EPA acknowledged "there may be a threat of serious or irreversible damage to rock art from industrial air emissions" but argued there was a lack of scientific consensus.
Woodside has disputed the concerns and provided funding for a government monitoring program. It is aiming to achieve net-zero direct emissions by 2050.
More than 500 appeals have been lodged ahead of Thursday's deadline for submissions on the EPA recommendation.
Greenpeace Australia Pacific chief executive David Ritter said the project would produce 4.3 billion tonnes of emissions if allowed to continue until 2070.
He said weak environmental laws were aiding major polluters.
"The EPA did not assess the impacts from the gas when it is actually burned by end-users - it just doesn't pass the pub test," he said.
Australian Associated Press
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