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The Australian government announced on Tuesday it would not block a controversial A$4.5 billion (US$3.1 billion) fertilizer plant near ancient rock art, which has become the latest development pitting a multinational against aboriginal groups.
Carvings known as petroglyphs, which include what are believed to be the oldest images of a human face, can now be moved to allow the factory to be built in a remote area of Western Australia by Perdaman Industries.
Australian Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said on Tuesday she had decided not to block the plant, which will produce urea-based fertilizers, after studying the site. She said another claim against the development is being considered, but construction can go ahead.
Developments at historic sites have become an increasingly sensitive issue in resource-rich Australia. The latest decision comes more than two years after the high-profile destruction of a site containing ancient artefacts by mining group Rio Tinto forced the resignation of then chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques.
The fertilizer project will be located on the Burrup Peninsula, which has approximately 1 million carvings dating back over 30,000 years.
The Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation, representing the traditional owners of the site, and the activist group Save Our Songlines had opposed the project which Perdaman said would create 2,000 jobs.
But Plibersek told ABC radio on Tuesday that the Murujuga group “believes that with proper care and proper ceremony [the petroglyphs] can be safely moved to a location immediately adjacent to the site”.