Saturday, February 16, 2008

suspensions, the spriggs - and what nick minchin and blind freddy have in common...

link to the arkaroola wilderness sanctuary websiteMarathon's operations at Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary are indefinitely suspended.

Premier Mike Rann has publicly referred to these operations as 'cowboy'- a remarkable statement and a damning indictment of the company - and Mineral Resources Development Minister Paul Holloway has told Parliament (13/02/08) 'I have already made it clear that there will be no new holes drilled by Marathon'.

Hooray - great news for all those who love the South Australian Environment!

So why is the company repeatedly claiming it's all just a blip on their radar? Is this just standard corporate 'spin'?

Well, certainly the main cause of any confusion is the Labor Party. Because what Labor haven't done is definitively ruled out a mine or Marathon's returning to Arkaroola. Not completely.

"As we indicated yesterday in a statement, the company will have to talk to and re-engage with stakeholders, including the Sprigg family (the operators of the resort at Arkaroola), before this government would ever contemplate any further activity by the company in this area."

This from Mr. Holloway addressing parliament as part of the same speech cited above.

Now, the Sprigg's were only ever playing host to Marathon in the first place because of the inadequate legislative protection afforded to Arkaroola allowing the extension of anachronistic Pastoral Lease provisions for mineral exploration access into the new National Park's Act Sanctuary (and Class A Environmental Zone).

(It's ironic that so many people are concerned about the relatively minor impact of 'sweeping' Native Title land claims while the mining industry - with the active encouragement of the Department of Mineral Resource Development - have laid claim to the overwhelming bulk of the state! What about this vastly larger - and more intrusive - issue of Non-Native Title?!)

The Spriggs don't want the mine, they don't want the contractors, and if it was up to them, the whole shebang would simply clean up the mess the company has made to date and leave, never to return.

Is the Minister saying the Govt. will only consider allowing Marathon to return to Arkaroola if they have the Sanctuary owners consent? Because we all know that won't be given.

An indefinite suspension predicated upon the Sanctuary's approval - or goodwill - to return is the de facto (if not de jure) end of the Mount Gee project. (Read the letter below)

What a neat way out for a government that doesn't want to acknowledge that it shouldn't have entertained the possibility of mining this - or any other - high-conservation value area in the first place.

But hang on - the Pastoral Lease style access provisions force property owners' hands in 'negotiating' with the mining companies.

Just saying 'no' to access isn't an option. Yes, even in the case of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary.

Arkaroola don't want to negotiate details of a compulsory access, they want the company gone. The government knows this.

It would be disingenuous, to say the least, to point to an enforced consultation and say that renewed exploration must be acceptable because, look, the company is 'talking to [this] stakeholder'! Incredible, in the original sense of the word!

So, what is the government going to do, Mr. Holloway and Mr. Rann, when Marathon have cleaned up their 22 800 bags and filled in the two 35m long pits they were tossed into, and say they want to return to Arkaroola to dig some more?

The Liberal Party strongly opposes mining in the Sanctuary, and will have a tremendous advantage in the run up to the next state election in 2009 if the Labor Party doesn't act definitively to rule out this unpopular project. Mike Rann knows this.

Arkaroola could prove to be his Franklin River Dam, if, like former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, he's foolish enough not to defend this iconic environment in the face of overwhelming public support for its protection.

It's vitually impossible to believe such a savvy politician would be this foolish!

And yet, until he definitively rules this project out, we have to accept that it might be possible

So, until then, I have to keep writing posts like this one - and the Spriggs will have to keep writing letters like the one below.

Why do we have to devote hours of our lives to trying to halt something even Blind Freddy (in this case personified as crusty Liberal Senator Nick Minchin!) could see never should have been started in the first place?

Ridiculous! Absurd! But sadly this government, which has gone to such efforts to brand itself as 'environmentally aware', currently forces us to it...

Dear Mr Rann

Thank you for your swift action in suspending Marathon’s exploration operations indefinitely after the charges against Marathon of unauthorised dumping of waste and contaminated materials were upheld.

You may remember that we signalled our concerns about Marathon’s operations in our letter to you of 28 January 2008. We were already concerned about a pattern of behaviour that had emerged which, despite the company’s rhetoric, had been cavalier at best and which had been characterised by ongoing breaches of agreed safety procedures and cooperative practices, of which we had advised PIRSA.

Given that Marathon has now admitted to this significant breach of their licence conditions, including the improper dumping 22,800 bags of low level radioactive material and general waste, the company’s actions clearly belie the veracity of their repeated assurances concerning “commitment to the environment” and to “sustainable exploration”. As similar controversial activities have occurred at other sites, eg at Hodgkinson in the summer of 2005-2006 and near the Myponga reservoir in 2006, we seriously question the future credibility of Marathon’s exploration and mining practices. Operational procedures, rigorous supervision and inscrutable corporate integrity are surely required of any company granted an exploration licence in a Class A Environmental Zone. Instead, Marathon deliberately breached its licence conditions at two sites within the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary. Accordingly, we request in the strongest terms, that you act immediately to put a permanent stop to the Mt Gee project by cancelling Marathon’s licences and imposing a total ban on uranium exploration and mining within the ranges of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary before further damage and degradation occurs.

Mining in the heart of an internationally acclaimed wilderness sanctuary is inappropriate and clearly against the national interest. It threatens the unique nature of an area of geological and environmental significance that has been nurtured by the Sprigg family for over 40 years using carefully developed conservation management principles and practices. Allowing mining makes a mockery of Arkaroola’s sanctuary status and its ecotourism credentials. Further, mining will sully the hard won reputation of Arkaroola as an innovative and multi-award winning ecotourism resort, which the SA State government recognises and proudly promotes. Arkaroola welcomes over 25,000 Australian and international visitors annually. Over the past three years Arkaroola has won multiple South Australian Tourism Awards in the Sustainable Tourism, Ecotourism and Major Tourist Attraction categories and was inducted into the Hall of Fame for Ecotourism 2005-2007.

We are sure that you appreciate that Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary is an ecologically sensitive area where any man-made activity leaves a large and lasting footprint. Mining is anathema to its delicately balanced ecology, which is home to several threatened species, such as the yellow-footed rock wallaby, the spider wattle and the bell fruit tree. Furthermore, the region encompassing Arkaroola and the surrounding plains is seriously challenged with respect to ground water. A mining operation such as Marathon proposes (according to the company’s estimates, using 20 times as much water at Heathgate currently uses at the nearby Beverley Uranium mine) would likely have dramatic consequences in this arid zone where recharge of aquifers is erratic at best and where the balance of surface and subsurface water is critical to the survival of plants and animals alike. Finally, mandated attempts to rehabilitate the degradation from mining operations will not guarantee regeneration to pre-disturbance condition, particularly as the effects of climate change are increasingly felt. It follows that mining in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary will compromise sustainability targets outlined in South Australia’s Strategic Plan.

Premier, we understand and appreciate that SA needs a mining economy to prosper. However, there are a number of other uranium finds and prospects in South Australia that are not located directly in the middle of a wilderness sanctuary and which do not have the concomitant costs of operating in an extremely sensitive environment. Evidence of a backlash against a uranium mine on the Sanctuary from current visitors has already emerged, representing a potentially significant impact on an exemplary ecotourism operation in the future. The cost of losing this unique gem is too high a price for the world community to pay for the benefit of a few shareholders. We urge you to ban mining in the ranges of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary.

Yours sincerely

Marg and Doug Sprigg

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thanks for your contribution - bill - i'm genuinely sorry about having to switch on the 'moderation' process but comment spammers have really been cluttering up this journal!