Monday, December 14, 2009

SaB submission period extended

Save Arkaroola - Australian 12-12-09 - click for the websiteThe public submission deadline for comment on 'Seeking a Balance - Conservation and resource use in the Northern Flinders Ranges' has been deferred until January 29th, 2009

See the most recent posts below for more information about Seeking a Balance.

Over the weekend the Save Arkaroola campaign placed an advertisement in the Weekend Australian (see at left), while the Wilderness Society ran its own on page 3 of today's Advertiser (below)

Today the Arkaroola Sanctuary released its own 'From the Ark update' announcing the postponement of the submission deadline. Notably, this included the following -

Arkaroola has received advice that the consultation process requires submissions to specifically address the management policies and zoning framework proposed in Seeking a Balance. So please when you Have Your Say, be sure to evaluate the document and make recommendations that can be considered in any revisionary process. We need to balance passion with purpose — to achieve a much better level of protection for Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, and by inference, the Northern Flinders Ranges.

Now, it would be nothing short of outrageous should the State Government attempt to ignore submissions on Seeking a Balance that simply say 'we do not want to see any mining in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, and to the extent that Seeking a Balance allows this I/we oppose it' - or even 'Please, just don't mine Arkaroola' - rather than addressing in detail a complicated mish-mash of zones that contradict existing legislation and don't even provide continuous 'whole of landscape' corridors for the local biota. I trust they will not attempt to do so.

In fact, given the clear conflict with the existing Class A Environmental Zone and no explanation of what the mining 'infrastructure' the new plan is prepared to see installed across the northern Flinders (in all but the limited areas assigned to Zone 1 in their plan) it's hard to work out what SaB actually means! (Click here for details)

So, I would argue that the Seeking a Balance process is flawed enough without any hypothetical figure in the state government attempting to say 'well, we're opening up the area to mining, and you must limit your comments to discussing the framework we've set up for this - but in choosing to comment you might perhaps hope to tweak our boundaries a little!'

the albert namatjira approach

But as no-one will want to see a submission wasted, and as I've advised before in this journal (see below) that submissions don't have to be long-winded or overly-detailed, I will also advise that they should at least contain wording to the effect that "I write with reference to your 'Seeking a Balance' document - and this is what I think of your proposed mining Access Zones..." and then propose what you'd wish to see for the area.

If we have to see the world through their framework let's take the Albert Namatjira approach - and paint the ranges purple!

(In SaB's mapping purple indicates Access Zone 1 - where the mining industry is most restricted - more zoning details )

TWS on Arkaroola - Advertiser 14-12-09 - click for the TWS SA arkaroola campaign

Saturday, December 12, 2009

don't submit - make a submission!

stripped of protection? class A versus SaB - click for larger versionsSubmissions on 'Seeking a Balance - conservation and resource use in the Northern Flinders Ranges' plan are rolling in.

As we've noted previously, submissions don't have to involve a complex examination of the issues and intricacies of the proposed zoning system. They can be short and punchy should you only wish to make clear your own opposition to the concept of mining being allowed in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary. I have chosen something from this genre as the first example piece I've posted below.

Of course, if you are able to find the time to assemble a more complex argument it's also good to tackle any of the broad range of specific issues the document raises - or the questions it leaves begging! Accordingly, I've attached a couple more examples that pursue different lines of argument in more detail.

You don't have to buy into the bizarre idea that some kind of reasonable 'balance' can be achieved by allowing mining in a wilderness area! As a correspondent asks below 'Would NSW allow mining on the Kosciuszcko plateau?' Isn't the whole point of conservation areas is that they are excluded from precisely this kind of economic activity? In Arkaroola and the wild northern Flinders Ranges the state government simply cannot have its environmental cake and eat yellowcake, too!

So; don't submit - make a submission! And when it comes to submissions, the main thing is that they arrive on Mr Tyne's and/or Mr Irving's desks - or in their in-boxes - by December 19! Their contact details are posted again below.'s also an excellent collection of example submissions available at the Save Arkaroola website - see the links at the bottom of the 'how can I help?' page

example one


Would NSW allow mining on the Kosciuszcko plateau? Would NT allow mining on Uluru? Would WA allow mining in the Stirling Ranges? Would Tasmania allow mining at Cradle Mountain? Would Victoria allow mining on the summit of Mt Bogong? Would Queensland allow mining on the Great Barrier Reef?

Rhetorical questions but germane ones. Unless one has been to Siller's Lookout on a cool winter's morning its impossible to describe the effect this area has on people. Arkaroola should be our 'secular scared site', to be FULLY and unequivocally preserved as an ecologically contiguous whole forever, not subject to an internecine cartographic 'death of a thousand cuts' and subsequent glossy greenwash campaign ('Seeking a Balance' being a typical example of the latter). Even when I cant get to Arkaroola, I feel better just knowing it is there, and I know I am not alone. I wonder how long I will be able to feel that way.

The fact that it has not been formally declared a national park is a historical anomaly ameliorated only by the excellent stewardship the Spriggs have demonstrated for decades. Why aren't they celebrated even more than they are for being the real pioneers of sustainable eco-tourism in this state?

I will leave the broader political, environmental, indigenous, spiritual and yes, even the economic arguments (see above) for the TOTAL PRESERVATION of this trifling percentage of the state, compelling as they are, to the many others who will surely submit their despairing and bewildered responses to this new government plan. Suffice to say that no government that pursues these policies will ever get my vote.

Save Arkaroola. Save our National Parks system.

example two

I want have to my opinion registered that exploration and mining, and in particular uranium mining, has the potential to seriously damage Arkaroola’s acclaimed tourism operation.

Arkaroola is an area of high conservation value in South Australia. Arkaroola is now known as Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, with official sanctuary status under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972.

I am very concerned about the water use of a mine. The hydrology of the Flinders Ranges is highly complex. The relationship between aquifers, the surface springs and recharge rates requires investigation so they are not put at risk.

In a submission to the Australian Government in 2007, Marathon Resources advised that it would require 5·5 million litres a day for processing activities should a mining application be approved in the future.

The company would seek water from a variety of sources on the plains and in the ranges. Any approval to extract this measure of water from the region would contravene the government’s own targets and prescriptions around the sustainable use of water resources. It is vital that ecosystems like that in Arkaroola, enduring periods of drought as it did through the 10 years to summer 2008/9, not have their water resources compromised.

I believe that Arkaroola’s water needs to be given the highest level of protection.

Through Seeking a Balance, the government plans to introduce a new regulatory framework that will likely see parts of the Arkaroola landscape, currently protected under Environmental Class A provisions, re-zoned for standard exploration and mining activities. This is totally unacceptable.

The iconic features of Mount Painter and Mt Gee must be protected from invasive activity such as mining.

Arkaroola remains relatively weed-free, with weeds mostly restricted to day visitor areas and watercourses in the southern and south-eastern sections of the property. This situation would change dramatically with the incursion of mining activity in the region as exploration and mining increases the risk of weed introduction.

Even after a decade of drought, the integrity of Arkaroola’s native vegetation, particularly in the Mount Painter zone is highly rated. A fragmented zoning arrangement for sections of this highland area provides little assurance that this will continue.

Arkaroola had the shortest grazing history of any pastoral property in the Northern Flinders Ranges. Much of the sanctuary’s heartland has never carried livestock and plant communities are intact. Great topographic variation provides a wealth of micro-climates and environmental niches. There is great potential for remnant populations of small mammals to have survived on Arkaroola.

Some of the wildest, most elevated, least modified and most biodiverse landscapes in the Flinders Ranges occur in north- eastern districts. Five properties with contiguous landholding provide refuge for remnant, endemic, rare and threatened species, some of which are found nowhere else in the world. They also provide a corridor of connectivity for the movement of dispersing rock-wallabies. With its unique geology and landforms, lack of weediness, intact plant communities, and position as the northernmost protected area in the Flinders Ranges, Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary is a critical part of a greater Northern Flinders corridor. Despite this, in developing the Seeking a Balance framework, the South Australian Government has failed to deliver appropriate levels of protection for individual species and ignores its own policies that advocate landscape scale conservation The new framework, it is claimed, will balance resource use and conservation, and provide more certainty for mining and exploration companies, landholders, traditional owners and the community.

I believe that Seeking a Balance is inconsistent with other natural resource management policies, is flawed in its methodology, and is skewed toward exploration and mining at the expense of the environment. It is appalling that people like me have to respond in this way to something that should be so far from reality as to be a poor joke. Unfortunately the proposals are real and scary.

example three

To whom it may concern:

I have been informed that the government wishes to "re-evaluate" its zoning on mining activities in the Northern Flinders Ranges. I have deduced from the publication 'Seeking a Balance' that the general aim is for the government to protect certain places of higher environmental/cultural/wildlife/geological/heritage/tourism value within the region, but then open the remaining areas in the region to mining exploration an activities.

I am opposed to this proposal, as there are a number of reasons that this act could be devastating to the area. Firstly, there are a number of endemic species to the area, and if disturbed by mining activities, or if invasive species are introduced through an increase of traffic into previously untouched areas, we could lose plants and animals not found anywhere else in the world.

There are also species that have been endangered that thrive in the area, such as the Yellow Footed Rock Wallaby. The species has a high concentration of colonies along the Arkaroola Creek, however in the proposed re-zoning, there are no bio-corridors linking the colonies in the north with those in the central regions or the north eastern region. Bio-corridors are essential to species survival as they allow the species to move to adjacent areas and to adapt to environmental change.

There are also important issues for Indigenous people, namely the Adnyamathanha People, which are barely even skimmed across in the proposal. Are the traditional owners being consulted on this matter? If so, are their opinions and concerns taken into account, or is this process simply a formality? Please inform me on this matter, as I am very unclear about the process undertaken in this circumstance.

There are also implications for tourism. As Arkaroola is an outstanding example of eco-tourism, the affects of mining exploration and activities going on within the sanctuary are not appealing to potential eco-tourists. The general characteristics of mining, such as water over-use, waste (see Marathon Exploration's inappropriate methods and waste dumping at Mt Gee and Yudnamutana Gorge), as well as pollution (both noise and air etc) will have a negative impact on the landscape, and therefore reduce the appeal to tourists, not to mention all other species that live there.

Geologically, the entire area is significant. There are important features within the area that have scientific importance, including holding information about past climates, which is becoming more and more important in the face of accelerated climate change.

Astronomically, Arkaroola has a spectacular outlook, with very little light pollution and usually fine weather, the star gazing is an attraction for tourists and astronomers. If mining activities are permitted nearby, what sort of affect will the amazing clear skies encounter?

The Euro-entric heritage of the area dates back to the 1840s, with the area being used for a number of different fields. Agriculture did not suit the landscape, and mining was tried and abandoned, and the most appropriate use was found - a wilderness sanctuary. Going back to mining in the area would be a step backwards - does the government want to move forward or backward? We don't need any more reasons for the other states to call SA a "little backwater".

I am also concerned that the mine at Beverly is perhaps not being fully utilised if concentration has turned towards the areas around Arkaroola. Are there issues regarding the Beverly mine that the public should be aware of?

It appears to me that the government are placing mining above environment and conservation in this instance, which is absolutely appalling. That is not what I elected the government to do. I am deeply disappointed that the policy makers have not learned a thing when it comes to over exploitation of resources, environmental degradation, climate change, and environmental irresponsibility. If economy is the states only concern and priority, then we will ruin our precious environment.

Please do not open up areas in the Northern Flinders Ranges to mining and resource exploration and activities that are currently protected. I would prefer to see a higher level of protection to the entire area. As biodiversity does not limit itself to pockets of landscape in the region - neither should the protective zoning.

Please reconsider your proposal to provide better environmental protection of these important areas

Submissions on Seeking a Balance are due in on December 19th (There are rumours of a postponement of this deadline until the end of January next year, but neither PIRSA's nor the Dept for Environment's 'Seeking a Balance' websites currently confirm this. I'll update this information when and if it changes.) They can be e-mailed or posted to;

Phone: (+61 8) 8124 4707
Post: Mr Jason Irving
Manager Policy and Planning
Department for Environment and Heritage
GPO Box 1047
Adelaide SA 5001

Phone: (+61 8) 8463 3033
Post: Dr Ted Tyne
Director, Mineral Resources
Primary Industries and Resources SA
GPO Box 1671
Adelaide SA 5001


Monday, December 7, 2009

seeking a balance - not a great lookout for sillers!

Seeking a Balance's view of Siller's Lookout - click for larger version on flickrThere's no more famous image of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary than the one at left. This view of Siller's Lookout, terminus of the outward-bound leg of the Ridgetop Tour (a party of which can be seen here on the summit) is known across Australia and the world. It's one of the iconic images of South Australian tourism, and Australian eco-tourism, full stop!

In fact, this version of the image is taken from the state government's own 'Seeking a Balance - Conservation and resource use in the Northern Flinders Ranges' (SaB) document.

the iconic Siller's Lookout - click for larger version on flickrBut the image is used very widely - the most well-known variant being Arkaroola's own take, as used, in the example at right, in The Wilderness Society's advertisement highlighting the risk mining poses to the area.

Referring to his then newly-released 'Seeking a Balance' plan, South Australia's Environment Minister Jay Weatherill told the ABC News on the 28th of October this year -

"I think what people need to rest assured about is that when they think about Arkaroola and they think about the iconic spots, the things that they have in their minds will be now [be] protected"

As I've said, there's no more iconic image of the Sanctuary than this view of Siller's - with the lookout massif in the foreground, and the ranges on the southern flank of lower Yudnamutana Gorge rolling off to the plains and Lake Frome behind.

But in 'Seeking a Balance' the Minister has not seen fit to grant any extra protection to Siller's Lookout, nor the bulk of the country you can see in the background in these iconic images!

Seeking a Balance assigns Siller's Lookout - click for larger version on flickrThat's right - in his plan this area is consigned (along with the bulk of the region) to Access Zone 3 (the 'yellow zone': see the detail of SaB's own map at left) - open to standard mineral exploration and mining access, with no approval required for either activity from the Department for the Environment!

A discussion of the inadequacies of the proposed zoning system, with particular regard to the apparent conflict with the Planning Act's existing 'Class A Environmental Zone' for the Flinders Ranges - inadequacies that remain even when it comes to those areas supposedly afforded a 'higher' level of protection - can be found in the previous post - a Class A confusion.

But to choose not to assign a higher level of protection to the icon area of Arkaroola, and then to tell the public you've 'protected' all 'the things they have in their minds... when they think about Arkaroola' - well, it's breathtaking, isn't it? But not as in 'what a breathtaking view!'

don't submit - make submissions!

No, you don't have to subscribe to the logic of planning for mining access to the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary and simultaneously proclaiming that it's been protected! Nor play-along with tweaking the boundaries of access and planning zones that overlap and contradict each other.

Make a submission on Seeking a Balance. They don't have to be long and complicated. You are completely entitled to express an opinion that mining is not a suitable option for the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary without having to enter into detailed discussion of the intricacies of Class A Zoning versus SaB access zoning, or discussion of why there are no linking biological corridors running north to south in the Government's plan, or any other of the broad range of issues the plan raises. Not if you don't wish to.

In fact, I'd argue that because SaB and the existing Class A Zone provisions are in such obvious conflict, and because we have no definition provided for any of the allowable mining 'infrastructure' associated with SaB (but explicitly excluded by class A), it's actually difficult to assess the implications of Seeking a Balance, full stop!

But it's clear that the mining industry cannot expect to have the run of the whole state - and since they tell us 'certainty' is what they crave, let them be certain that these wild ranges are off-limits!

Submissions on Seeking a Balance are due in on December 19th. They can be e-mailed or posted to -

Phone: (+61 8) 8124 4707
Post: Mr Jason Irving
Manager Policy and Planning
Department for Environment and Heritage
GPO Box 1047
Adelaide SA 5001

Phone: (+61 8) 8463 3033
Post: Dr Ted Tyne
Director, Mineral Resources
Primary Industries and Resources SA
GPO Box 1671
Adelaide SA 5001

for example

I've attached the first example submission on SaB below. It's written from the perspective of someone who is pro-mining, but, as they say, not at any cost! I am hoping that a series of such submissions will shortly be appearing on the Save Arkaroola website.

Dear Dr Tyne & Mr Irving

I am writing to you to strongly urge you to reconsider the Proposed Management Zones for the northeastern region of the Northern Flinders Ranges as indicated in the document Seeking a Balance.

I consider myself pro-mining and am All for economic benefit for the State of South Australia – BUT NOT AT ANY COST !

I enjoy bushwalking, camping and nature and I have visited the beautiful, stunning and quite magnificent Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary many times. I have also taken the exciting four wheel drive Ridgetop Tour through this iconic area, much of which, under the proposed zoning would become Access Zone 3: for Standard exploration and mining access.

It is my belief that this environmentally fragile region, which is currently suffering under more than a decade of drought, at least in the foreseeable future, would be irreparably damaged by current mining and exploration techniques. Many species are under considerable threat to their survival, and additional pressure could be catastrophic for them particularly given global warming.

To quote 'Seeking a Balance' itself - 'much of the Northern Flinders Ranges lies within the Development Plan’s Environmental Class A Zone. The prime objectives of the Environmental Class A Zone seek to conserve the natural character and environment of the area and to protect the landscape from damage by mining operations and exploring for new resources.'

I believe it would be better to strengthen the existing Class A Environmental standards rather than bringing in a whole new raft of legislation.

The Development Act says ‘Mining operations should not take place here unless the deposits are of such paramount significance that all other environment, heritage or conservation considerations may be overridden’ and that ‘exploitation of the deposits is in the National or State interest’ and that ‘investigations have show that alternative deposits are not available on other land in the locality..’

I believe it is pointless and dangerous to risk the introduction of new legislation when the current simply needs tweeking. Present techniques are too risky and likely to cause environmental, cultural, tourism and/or other damage and will be a blight on the landscape for decades to come.

Please follow the advice of moderation and withdraw the Management Zoning proposals mooted in Seeking a Balance.


Friday, December 4, 2009

a Class A confusion?

class A versus SaB - click for larger versionsThe map at left, courtesy of The Wilderness Society, superimposes the Class A Environmental Zone created by the 2003 Development Plan for the Flinders Ranges (or Class A for short) over the recently released 'Seeking a Balance - conservation and resource use in the Northern Flinders Ranges' (SaB) document's proposed mineral access zoning.

(Click the image to go to the flickr page where it's possible to access large - and very large - versions of this map.)

To quote 'Seeking a Balance' itself 'much of the Northern Flinders Ranges lies within the Development Plan’s Environmental Class A Zone. The prime objectives of the Environmental Class A Zone seek to conserve the natural character and environment of the area and to protect the landscape from damage by mining operations and exploring for new resources.

In the map the Class A Zone is indicated by the large red hatched area. Under the existing Class A provisions mining is currently possible within it only if the deposit is of 'paramount importance' and in 'the national interest' and if no similar resource is available outside the zone. Any proposed 'infrastructure' is limited to walkers huts and associated rainwater tanks and the like.

'Seeking a Balance' excludes mining and associated infrastructure only in the Purple Zones (Zone 1 in SaB). While this is an excellent result in the case of the Mawson Plateau, the largest such area, the story for the rest of the northern Flinders is rather different, and particularly for the disputed area of Exploration Lease 4355, which is shown outlined in black (see detail map below).

Roughly, Blue Zones (SaB Access Zone 2a) allow for restricted, 'non-disturbing' exploration activity and potential mining access only from 'outside' those zones (i.e from underground.) Any activity must be jointly-approved by both the Dept for Mineral Resources and the Dept for Environment.

the devil in the detail; EL 4355 - click for larger versionsBut please bear in mind, within controversial uranium exploration lease EL 4355 - the black outline - the exploration drilling around Mount Gee and Mount Painter has largely been done already in or adjacent to these sectors. Since these zones are confined to ridge-tops they would not in any case be likely targets for direct mining access since the uranium resource lies hundreds of metres below them! (Although currently effectively ruled out by the terms of the Class A Zone optimal efficiency and economy would be achieved by accessing any resource from a low-lying gorge/valley area adjacent to it - and as we see by glancing at the map and in the discussion of the other access zones below, SaB apparently might provide such opportunities!)

it's more by way of being guidelines

Still on the blue zones (2a), while exploration may be restricted - even if that's actually moot - undefined mining 'infrastructure' is allowable. I can't tell you what 'infrastructure' might be because nowhere is that made clear! There is no specific reference to Class A but reference is made to proposals being 'assessed in light of planning guidelines and identified values'.

Now, 'guidelines' is a scary word, particularly when it's being used to describe something that is actually the mainstay of protection for the area!

Green Zones (SaB Access Zone 2b) allow for both exploration drilling and the creation of undefined 'infrastructure' and mining with the approval of both the Mineral Resources Dept. and the Dept. for the Environment on a case-by-case basis. Again, Class A is not specifically cited, but a clearer reference (better than 'planning guidelines', anyway!) is made to 'Development Plan guidelines'; but note again, this key existing legislation is still - disturbingly - referred to as 'guidelines'!

Yellow Zones (SaB Access Zone 3) - by far the largest area - allow for mining to occur as it might anywhere else in the state where only the standard provisions of the Mining Act apply. No Dept. for Environment approval is required to grant either exploration or mining permits. Might they also serve as potential departure points for shafts and declines accessing resources under the higher conservation value areas?

a very uneasy 'balance'

Do you see something of a tension here? We are apparently to believe that the Class A Zoning still exists across its marked area - legislation that was set up specifically to 'preserve the character of the ranges' and dramatically limit mining activity - and simultaneously that the new 'Seeking a Balance' plan 'increases the level of protection for the area' while apparently allowing for both infrastructure and access that Class A specifically does not permit!

Meanwhile it simultaneously reduces the bulk of the area to the same 'standard mining regulations only' status as the adjacent plains and the bulk of the rest of the state! If this supersedes Class A it's a disaster; if the two are supposed to simultaneously co-exist the tensions between them are absurd; and how are we to judge which will prevail?...

the corridors of power?

The astute among you will also notice that there are no continuous 'corridors' linking the higher value conservation areas (Zones 1 and 2a and 2b) from north to south. Such continuous corridors are standard practice elsewhere in the state where the Govt's 'Naturelinks' program is operational.

But take another look; there are apparent corridors! Consider the continuous Zone 3 'standard regs only' zones surrounding the uranium resource, which is centred on Mount Gee in the heart of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary and EL 4355 (see the detail map above).

And look at the potential link this 'standard mining access' zoning provides to the proposed processing facilities on the eastern plains!

Consider the long peninsula of green (SaB Access Zone 2B) that snakes away from Mount Gee and Mount Painter to the south east towards the proposed processing zone. Why on earth would this, the northern side of the valley of the East Painter Creek warrant a higher protection status while the southern side, which is virtually identical as a landscape, is cast into the 'access all areas' zone? Why indeed, if not to provide for a potential haulage or pipeline route on the southern side?

make submissions - but don't submit!

Submissions on seeking a balance are due in a fortnight (December 19th). Details for where they can be sent are available via the Seeking a Balance PDF (or booklet itself), or at the Save Arkaroola website (+ see link in image below)

Don't let the above phase you! Submissions don't have to be long and complicated. You are completely entitled to express an opinion that mining is not a suitable option for the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary without having to enter into detailed discussion of the intricacies of Class A Zoning versus SaB access zoning if you don't wish to. I provide these details for information, and because I want to make clear my concerns with notions that the 'balance' SaB seeks is only a 'reasonable' weighing of options.

It's an intellectual fallacy that there's always a 'middle ground' that needs to be sought in any argument and is the most 'reasonable' position. Could we really believe that a half-scale Franklin Dam would have been a rational compromise? Or that we could safely drill for oil on half the Barrier Reef?

No! Absurdity must be named. There's no place for miners in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, and the kind of convoluted logic that gives us a mish-mash of zoning and a mesh of contradictions like that found in SaB only serves to reinforce this argument. If 'certainty' is what's required then let the industry be 'certain' that it has no place here.

And I'll happily post any copies of submissions people care to send me that might serve as a good inspiration and example to other friends of the wild ranges! Feel free to either post them as a comment below or e-mail them directly to me.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

savearkaroola launched! less than 3 weeks to go before formal public comment on the fate of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary closes, the Sprigg family have launched, a site set up specifically to put their case in defending the Sanctuary from the combined encroachments of the mining industry and state government departments apparently unwilling to defend it from them.

The Spriggs raise similar concerns to those voiced on this site regarding 'Seeking a Balance,'the state government's proposed blueprint for mineral exploration access in the the northern Flinders Ranges.

They are also unable to understand why it did not at least reinforce (or, in the circumstances, decisively exceed!) existing legislative protections covering the region - the Environmental Class A Zone - which was designed specifically to protect the character of the ranges.

Seeking a Balance - or $eeking a Billion?!

Instead, this document sets up a series of potential access zones that, although they afford some welcome - and long overdue - high-level protections in the north of the Sanctuary, would appear to be not much better than a blueprint for mining access routes into the heart of the Sanctuary itself; the Mount Gee and Mount Painter region!

Subsequent claims from the Department for Environment that the Class A Zone provisions still underlie 'Seeking a Balance' have decidedly not reassured anyone who cares about the ranges.

As I have discussed previously (see link plus the previous post), it is rather hard to reconcile legislation that specifically restricts 'infrastructure' to walkers huts and rainwater tanks and proposes that mining could only be possible in the rarest of circumstances - conditions patently not met in what is now Exploration Lease 4355 - with the SaB's proposed zoning, which includes substantial areas (covering even iconic sites such as Siller's Lookout!) where only the standard access provisions of the Mining Act would apply!

In any case, factor in Minerals Minister Paul Holloway's recent dismissive claim in Parliament that he can choose to treat the Class A Zone provisions as 'guidelines', and you have a situation where all true friends of the ranges can only be on high alert!

from the ark, the Sprigg family have just published a special edition of their 'From the Ark' Newsletter, specifically putting their case for the proper protection of the Sanctuary.

This document is well worth reading; you might, for instance, be bemused - if not a little shocked - to discover on page 3 what method was used to officially determine the 'landscape quality' of the Sanctuary!

But then, the Spriggs have had to suffer much at the hands of both the 'access all areas' arm of the mining industry and its state government enablers. One can only hope their long fight will shortly yield the decisive, and positive, outcome they - and the Sanctuary - deserve!

It's little wonder, then, that the Newsletter contains a little mischief - I've attached it below - a reliable, thorough, and rigorously scientific test calculated to determine if the viewer is suffering from 'Gottamineopia', a fortunately rare hybrid of single-minded myopia and tunnel-vision!


Sunday, November 22, 2009

of cowboys, calisthenics, and crocodile tears

cowboys (and girl!) - it just ain't thrillin' if they ain't a-drillin' - click for matt t's arkaroola set on flickrA posse of Cowboys (and a Cowgirl!) strode into town Thursday morning, and moseyed on down to the Sebel Playford on North Terrace, just in time for Marathon Resources' Annual General Meeting, which was being held inside this mighty fancy saloon.

You may recall that Premier Mike Rann had announced that his government would not tolerate 'cowboy operators' when he suspended Marathon's licence to drill in the heart of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary early last year.

These ornery dudes were itchin' to get back to drilling ("it ain't thrillin' if we ain't drillin'!..."), and had brought their own cordless rigs along to demonstrate the 'real responsible' manner in which they'd like to go about it. They acknowledged there'd been mistakes in the past; "we're sorry, and we won't do it again. But they went on to explain "and hell, if we do do it again, well, we'll be sorry then, too!..."

In fact, it'd be hard to imagine a sorrier posse!

But leaving aside the opinions of this Wild Bunch, given the seriousness of Marathon's breaches of their exploration lease many of us were surprised when one of Sheriff Rann's Deputies - Mineral Resources Development Minister Paul Holloway - handed Marathon a renewed exploration licence for the same area last month.

 'seeking a balance'- p15 - click for the full-sized mapAnd many were also surprised when he went on to announce the publication of 'Seeking a Balance - conservation and resource use in the Northern Flinders Ranges.' Because from a simple glance - see at right - at the 'Proposed Management Zones' map on page 15 it's hard not to conclude that one of the main purposes of SaB is to allow for the creation of mining access corridors across the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary.

For the only explanation I can conceive of for the strange 'exposed midriff' that runs along the centre of this map - a gap where only standard mining regulations would apply and the Department for Environment (DEH) would hold no sway - is that it is designed to let the mining industry extract uranium at Mount Gee in the centre of the Sanctuary and transport it to processing facilities on the adjacent plains.

corridors for wildlife - or whacking-great trucks?

You may ask yourself why, for instance, the northern side of the valley of the Mount Painter Creek is deemed worthy of DEH protection (the green peninsula that runs east from Mount Gee and Mount Painter) while the southern side is left to the industry? Why in a document that is supposedly based on sound ecological principles are there no linking corridors form north to south in this spectacular wild region? Where are the values that inform the state government's NatureLinks program - that recognises the vital nature of biological corridors elsewhere in the state - in this instance?

The period for comment on this document closes on December the 19th.

It has been hard to clarify the meaning of so much of SaB - particularly the question of what constitutes 'infrastructure', and why this would even be being contemplated by the Department for the Environment in an area where under existing legislation - the Class A Environmental Zone for the Flinders Ranges (constituted under the Planning Act) - in order to preserve the character of the ranges any such 'infrastructure' is restricted to walkers huts and rainwater tanks!.

This issue will be dealt with specifically in my next post. And shortly a series of postings on websites - including this one - will go over all these issues in detail and call on lovers of the South Australian environment to have their say on SaB before the closure date.

For we can hardly afford to rest on out laurels...

shareholders on the march?

Because, inside the Marathon AGM, Chairman Peter Williams had an explicit message for Marathon's shareholders: after complaining that his company 'was not consulted' in the creation of the document (if it's any consolation neither was I, The Wilderness Society, or Marg Sprigg!) he asked shareholders to write in and express their views on Seeking a Balance:

The State Government has invited stakeholders to make submissions up to 19 December 2009 on its “Seeking a Balance”paper.

The Marathon Board encourages shareholders and other stakeholders to review the government document and, if thought appropriate, we ask you to make a submission to the Government outlining your own views on what the realistic “balance”should be.

Now, it's not hard to imagine what those views might be! But in case they didn't get it he went further, telling the Adelaide Advertiser;

Marathon chairman Peter Williams said the imposition of the "Seeking the Balance" management plan would set a dangerous precedent, as mining companies would no longer have certainty that the regulations they were working under were consistent and reliable...

"We find now that there could be areas of the state that have been previously subjected to conditions that are strict...and now we find that the government wants to impose some arrangements over the top.

they brought it on themselves

For a start, having been with Marathon since its inception Peter Williams knows only too well that the reason SaB even exists is his company's own track record in the Sanctuary!

Given that so many felt it was it was already outrageous enough that they were ever allowed in in the first place, even viewed purely tactically it is almost impossible to fathom how his company could ever have allowed such a dramatic breach of regulations to occur.

And if the mining industry are so keen on 'certainty' why don't they just accept that there are some places that they should not go, and the heart of the Arkaroola Sanctuary is one of them?

cowboys (and girl!) - it just ain't thrillin' if they ain't a-drillin' - click for matt t's arkaroola set on flickrIt's particularly hard to fathom why Paul Holloway's department sticks to its guns in such a bloody-minded manner on this issue. Perhaps it's their own Cowboy enthusiasms?

Because Seeking a Balance is, to put it bluntly, rather a dog's breakfast!

This is where we must consider the question of calisthenics. Even leaving aside for a moment the question of SaB's debatable environmental bona fides, being prepared to go to such lengths to create a complex overlapping mosaic of regulations and ministerial responsibilities is pretty hard to reconcile with oft-repeated claims that the government want to streamline the mining industry's access across the state and provide 'certainty'.

Why not just face it; if you have to twist yourself into such a bizarre, convoluted shape in order to allow something then surely it's time to accept that there's an inherent problem with that very something?

no false 'balance'

Marathon presumes to claim on behalf of the mining industry that it's being hard done by in SaB, and the environmental movement certainly has little reason to be happy (leaving aside the long-overdue protections for the magnificent Mawson Plateau).

But any attempt by the government to play the 'we're being criticised by both sides, we must be right' game will hardly wash!

Because if SaB is really as, ahem, 'over the top' in regulating the environment of the northern Flinders as Marathon would have us believe, why did Mineral Resources Director Dr. Paul Heithersay tell the South Australian Chamber of Mines and Energy "it allows the majority of North Flinders Ranges to stay open to mining and exploration" but they "would be more nuanced about how we manage this"?

So much for any industry crocodile tears. There really is just one 'certainty' here: Marathon have demonstrated only too clearly why the mining industry and high-value conservation areas do not mix. Now let's just grow up and accept it.

As Greens MLC Mark Parnell told ABC news while the Wild Bunch capered behind him on Thursday -

"South Australia has a good future and a big future in mining. Over 90 per cent, in fact closer to 95 per cent, of the state is open to mining," he said.

"We need to make sure that our most important natural areas are protected and Arkaroola should be very close to the top of the list."

Sheriff Rann, it's time to run the cowboys out of town for good!


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

this great leap forward is several steps back!

seeking a balance - click to read the reportMike Rann has proposed a set of protection areas for the northern Flinders Ranges, including the Arkaroola Sanctuary and Mount Gee. See below for the full transcript of his statement to Parliament of today. And here for the document 'Seeking a Balance'

While it will take a little time to work through the full implications of exactly what's been proposed my first reaction is easy: 'it's not enough, Mike!'

If you consult the map (see image below for link to the larger version) there's a rather remarkable gap - kind of an exposed midriff - between the dense cluster of restricted access sectors in the north and another cluster in the south of the Arkaroola Sanctuary.

 'seeking a balance'- p15 - click for the full-sized mapNow, you probably won't be astonished to learn that this patchy band just happens to coincide with the putative uranium hot-zone and Marathon's exploration lease.

Some preliminary observations; Mount Gee is clearly shown to be within Zone 2a (the second-highest level of protection afforded - no drilling access is allowed) in the map on page 15 (see at right), and yet is described in the text on page 16 as being in Zone 2b (where drilling is allowed - see below). In the circumstances this really is a remarkable error. So which Zone is it really in, Mike?

do they read their own laws?

Even more amazingly, mining 'infrastructure' may now be permitted to be installed in Zone 2b -

Infrastructure may be permitted within the zone on a case-by-case basis provided it protects identified values

 'seeking a balance' p16 - spot the contradiction!To date Marathon has acknowledged accepting that it will have to tunnel in under the ranges from outside to access the resource, and that it wouldn't be establishing any entrance tunnels for shafts, declines or similar locally, so the Rann Govt. has apparently gone backwards on this point!

In fact, the government is behaving as though laws that are inconvenient for its purposes simply don't exist! Has anyone in this government actually read the Environmental Class A Zone provisions that already apply to the Northern Flinders Ranges under the Planning Act of 1993?

No-one - not Marathon, not Heathgate / Alliance, not even the Government itself - can build any such 'infrastructure' anywhere in the ranges - even in the proposed 'open - slather' zones. It's worth quoting from this legislation;

Objective 1: The conservation of the natural character and environment of the area.

Land in the area is of extremely high landscape, wilderness, environmental and scientific value. These qualities make it an attractive natural environment containing little evidence of human impact. New structures need to be restricted to shelters and rainwater storage for walkers and persons on horseback and to structures ancillary and adjacent to existing buildings....

Conservation of the environment and landscape is the paramount aim and consideration in the Environmental Class A Zone...

No new tracks (as distinct from roads) should be constructed and the use of existing tracks by vehicles also needs to be restricted...

and while we're quoting this 'inconvenient' legislation;

No mining operations should take place in the Environmental Class A Zone except where:
(a) the deposits are of such paramount significance that all other environment, heritage or conservation considerations may be overridden;
(b) the exploitation of the deposits is in the National or State interest;
(c) investigations have shown that alternative deposits are not available on other land in the locality outside the zone...

Alliance's Beverly 4 Mile ISL uranium mining operation lies only a few kilometres from Marathon's lease's eastern boundary. Roxby Downs is the largest uranium mine in the world, and SA has 4 other mines running or approved. So much for 'paramount significance' 'National interest' and 'alternative deposits are not available'!

It's ridiculous - nobody needs the uranium under the Arkaroola Sanctuary for any reason better than their own potential personal enrichment. Existing legislation was developed specifically to protect the character of the ranges. And yet the Rann government has proceeded to divvy up the northern Flinders as though they owned the place!

more steps back!

And speaking of going backwards rather than forwards; Mineral Resources Development Minister Paul Holloway's previous Media Release stated categorically that the Department for Environment and Heritage would be signing off on all potential Marathon Exploration activities within their lease -

These conditions include the requirement for both the Director of Mines and Chief Executive of the Department of Evironment and Heritage to jointly approve all exploration activities [emphasis in original]

And yet there are areas within Marathon's lease as depicted on Mike Rann's new map that are not designated as requiring joint management with the DEH!

To be logically consistent all sectors of EL 3258 (or it's successor!) must at a minimum be assigned within Zone 2b, where the DEH's approval is a requirement for exploration activities. Instead large chunks are assigned to 'access all areas' standard-mining-lease zones with only the Minerals Department approving any exploration. This is blatantly contradictory.

Lookout, Sillers!

Incredibly, Sillers Lookout, the iconic area that is the outward terminus for the Ridgetop Tour also sits in this 'open slather' zone.

Yes, despite a dramatic photo of the Lookout adorning the page 2 and 3 frontispiece of the government's own document. And despite this major Tourism drawcard being the very image that most people are likely to call to mind when they think of Arkaroola! Mr. Rann, this is 'asleep at the wheel' stuff!

But, you see, Sillers Lookout has the misfortune to be located in the 'exposed midriff' of the Sanctuary.

No doubt much more discussion will ensue. The public has until December 19th to comment on this proposed legislation, which is described specifically thus; 'the area zoned in this document is the minimum area for protection'.

I suggest we tell mike Rann we want more. Much more.


The Hon. M.D. RANN (Ramsay—Premier, Minister for Economic Development, Minister for Social Inclusion, Minister for the Arts, Minister for Sustainability and Climate Change) (14:11): I seek leave to make another ministerial statement, and I apologise for the length.

Leave granted.

The Hon. M.D. RANN: The future of the Northern Flinders Ranges, including the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, requires a careful balance between minerals and energy exploration and preservation of the unique environmental beauty of this world-class tourist area. Resource companies need both certainty and clarity when making decisions about their high risk long-life investments. While the Northern Flinders Ranges has been explored for decades, it has long been recognised by the industry and government that iconic areas in the Northern Flinders need clear and appropriate levels of protection. I am announcing today that the South Australian government is moving to ensure this balance is achieved by adopting a Northern Flinders Environmental Management Framework and putting it out for public consultation for the next eight weeks.

Despite the impact of the global financial downturn over the past year, mining continues to be a foundation stone of South Australia's ongoing economic growth and prosperity. A key reason for the huge increase in minerals exploration in our state over recent years is the state government's Plan for Accelerating Exploration (or the PACE program, as it is better known). This $31 million investment that we launched in 2004, in partnership with the resources industry, is a key part of our strategy to diversify the economy of our state in order to increase economic growth. Never has any scheme delivered better bang for buck than the PACE scheme in mining. PACE has resulted in—

Members interjecting:

The Hon. M.D. RANN: Oh, they are still going on about tasers. They spend all their time tasering each other! PACE has resulted in an unprecedented boost in mineral exploration activity, which—

Mr Williams interjecting:

The SPEAKER: Order! The Premier will take his seat. The member for MacKillop.

Mr WILLIAMS: It is the convention of the house, when a minister obtains leave to make a ministerial statement, that they supply other members with a copy of it.

The Hon. M.D. RANN: I have got them here.

Members interjecting:

The Hon. M.D. RANN: No, I want him to read it, because he will see that there was $30 million a year in exploration under the Liberals and there was $355 million a year in 2007-08. So, that is the difference. PACE has resulted in an unprecedented boost in minerals exploration activity, which grew from around $30 million a year at the start of this decade to $355 million in the 2007-08 financial year. From a total of four operating mines when this state government came to office—

Mr Williams interjecting:

The SPEAKER: Order, the member for MacKillop!

The Hon. M.D. RANN: —South Australia is now home to 11 mines—

Mr Williams interjecting:

The SPEAKER: The member for MacKillop!

The Hon. M.D. RANN: —with that number expected to increase to 16 by the end of next year: a fourfold increase in the number of mines in this state.

In addition, we have more than 20 projects that are currently progressing through the approvals process. That growth reflects the climate of investment certainty that the government has created over the past 7½ years. But the PACE initiative is not solely about attracting exploration and investment. Among the eight themes that underpin our PACE scheme are balancing resource development with conservation and also resource development and sustainable communities.

Of course, balancing the realisation of mineral resources with the needs and sensitivities of our environment is a challenge for governments the world over. That is why the South Australia government continues to work closely with the industry to help ensure that our resources sector grows in concert, not at the expense of our natural environment.

We have shown our preparedness to act when our stringent environmental requirements are not met. The government has responded to inappropriate activities by Marathon Resources in the Flinders Ranges by imposing stringent licensing conditions and an ongoing ban on ground-disturbing activities. The company cannot drill or do anything with their licence beyond flying over the area or picking up rocks exposed on the ground for the next 12 months. In October 2010, the company will have to apply to have their licence renewed and the government will again determine what conditions will be imposed at that time.

This government has an equally strong record in protecting and enhancing our natural environment. For instance, since coming to office, we have placed about 800,000 hectares of wilderness under wilderness protection, the highest protection level we can provide. And now we get on to Arkaroola and the Northern Flinders which has been the subject of such controversy.

The Northern Flinders is an area of South Australia which has been a focus for mineral exploration since early last century and which has had high mineral prospectivity and a potential source of geothermal energy, but it is also an area of wild beauty, high conservation values and significant tourism potential. It is home to the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, a place that South Australians identify as greatly untouched wilderness. Its habitat includes plants and animals unique to the area, including the Flinders Ranges purple spotted gudgeon, the spidery wattle and the endangered yellow-footed rock wallaby. It is also a place of significant cultural value to the Adnyamathanha people who retain a living connection with their country. That is why the future of the Northern Flinders Ranges requires a careful balance between exploration and the preservation of these areas of great environmental and cultural value.

Today, I am announcing that the state government will be adopting an environmental management framework to balance the environmental and prospectivity values of the Northern Flinders Ranges. The new framework provides a sensible set of guidelines that exploration companies can use while working in the Northern Flinders. And here is the rub. Areas with particularly high conservation and tourism significance will be zoned such that no access for exploration or resource development is allowed. At the same time, environmentally and culturally important areas in the Northern Flinders Ranges such as the Mawson Plateau, Freeling Heights, Mount Gee, Mount Painter and Arkaroola Creek will be managed in a way that preserves areas of local heritage and scenic beauty for generations to come.

The framework is based upon a joint project by Primary Industries and the Department for Environment and Heritage to identify the heritage sites of the Northern Flinders Ranges. This project has established a set of management policies and zones to identify the most important environmental and landscape values. Some sites will be zoned to allow lower impact exploration, while other sites will be zoned to allow for standard exploration and mining access, but also, of course, there will be zones where there is a total, absolute prohibition.

The framework clearly provides for ongoing access to areas of high mineral prospectivity. By implementing these zones, the framework will provide the kind of certainty and clarity that resources companies require when making decisions about their high-risk, long-life investments. These management arrangements are in addition to existing protection—in addition to existing protection—under the Aboriginal Heritage Act and other relevant legislation.

The government will be seeking feedback from key stakeholders, such as the state's Chamber of Mines and Energy, traditional owners, the Wilderness Society, the owners of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, as well as mining, exploration and other lease holders. The draft framework will also be available for broader public consultation for eight weeks, and I encourage people to have their say to make sure that we get the balance right. The final policy documents will be released by the government in early 2010. But, in conclusion, and this is the most important thing, areas with particularly high conservation and tourism significance will be zoned that no access for exploration or resource development will be allowed.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

confused? join the club!

labor lost again! link to the larger version on flickr Well, Marathon Resources were certainly offered a new exploration lease in the Arkaroola Sanctuary by the Department for Mineral Resources Development on Saturday. And that's about the point where the certainty ends.

Marathon immediately responded that they were thinking about it; they'd have to get the board together to mull it over. An odd response, you might think, given some of the fairly inadequate media reporting suggesting Marathon had won its way back into active exploration at Arkaroola.

Well, they haven't. Or, at least , they're in the same situation they were before: they're suspended from drilling, but they can do other non-intrusive survey work, and this won't change until Paul Holloway's new legislation has passed.

So if all this is the same why does Marathon not simply say 'ta' when offered the new lease?

Because conditions have changed. The Department for Environment and Heritage must now approve any proposed exploration program as well, rather than just the Minerals Department as before. (You might be interested to know that this puts Arkaroola on a par with the bulk of SA's reserve system - the 'jointly-proclaimed' parks and reserves.)

'parts of arkaroola should never be open to mining'

But that's not all: some parts of Arkaroola are now going to be off limits to the mining industry altogether; Paul Holloway now says 'there are some parts of the Arkaroola area that should never be open to mining'. This has been reported as Marathon not being allowed into some areas - completely unsurprisingly since that's the obvious implication. But which ones? Is Mount Gee now off limits? If not Mount Gee, then where? What exactly did the Minister really mean?

Well, Mark Parnell had a go at asking Paul Holloway this question in Parliament on Tuesday - the full transcript follows - and apart from the kind of aggressive and accusatory reaction the defensive are often inclined to give he didn't offer much by way of clarification. (Read below and see!)

There is a joint process in place with the Dept.s for Environment and Minerals developing a framework for identifying those areas in the northern Flinders to be excluded from the reach of miners. Fine. This is long overdue, has been called for by this writer for one, and will please many.

However, no we can't know which parts of Arkaroola are to be among those excluded from the mining industry's reach because the relevant stakeholders have to be negotiated with first and the overall policy developed etc. etc.

Well, 'stakeholder' I thought, so I asked Marg Sprigg about it; no, she didn't know which bits of Arkaroola might be excluded! Then again, she only owns the place...

bloody annoyed

Now, I for one, am going to be bloody annoyed if, in the context of issuing a media release whose subject is the reissuing an exploration lease to Marathon Resources, it transpires that areas inside that lease - i.e those relevant to the subject at hand - are not actually under consideration for exclusion from mining!

Protecting, say, the Arkaroola section of the Mawson Plateau is highly commendable. Great! But it's not the point here! We want to know what your government is doing about Mount Gee, Mount Painter, the Armchair, and the Ridgetop Track, Paul! Thats what your media release is supposed to be about, not something nice you might be doing up the road a bit once you sort a few things out!

In fact, in the circumstances it's deceptive to suggest now that areas of Arkaroola would be off limits to mining if it subsequently transpires there aren't to be any in EL 3258!

So, has Marathon been told they're not to return to some areas? Or they may be excluded from them in the future? If not, what's going to happen if the process Mr. Holloway refers to identifies such areas inside the lease after its been reissued?

Given the repeated emphasis Paul Holloway has been placing on the vital importance of 'Sovereign Risk' in all this, and if he believes - as he apparently does - that he can't simply refuse to reissue an expiring lease to a company that went as far off the rails as Marathon did by their own admission... well, I can't say I feel optimistic about any tough future intervention to defend the environment! The lease is going to expire again in 12 months, Paul, and if Marathon are still around they're going to want another one then, too!...

fear not - front reception is safe!...

The only area that Holloway identified in response to Mark's question was what he calls 'the Arkaroola Lodge.' [The Labor Cabinet's geographic grasp of this issue has been consistently hazy - see Will one of Mike's Minders please buy him a Map? Must we assume that only Greens and Liberals ever go camping in the Flinders?]

Well, it's very reassuring to know that an access shaft won't be able to be driven in from the Arkaroola Resort Front Reception Desk, Paul! But when the heck is the Sanctuary going to get the protection it deserves, and the South Australian people want to give it?

Thousands of people have written to this Government on this issue and public opinion could hardly be clearer. They deserve a clear response. If you're refusing to give the people what they want you need to be brave enough to come out and say it!

The Parliamentary exchange from Tuesday:
The Hon. M. PARNELL: On Saturday, the minister [Minerals Minister Paul Holloway] announced that he had offered a brand-new exploration licence over the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary to Marathon Resources, the company that had been suspended from drilling following the discovery of illegally dumped waste and other breaches of its licence. Included in the minister's news release was the following statement:

There are some parts of the Arkaroola area that should never be open to mining.

However, last month, on 9 September, in answer to my question, the minister implied that, until his proposed changes to the Mining Act are passed, another mining company could just automatically step in and take over exploration activities if he did not issue a new licence to Marathon. The minister said:

… if for some reason the licence is not renewed immediately, someone else could apply for a licence over that area. The preliminary advice I have is that the Warden's Court would almost certainly issue another licence over that area. There is no power within the act. One of the amendments that the government will be looking at will address that situation. Certainly, the preliminary advice I have is that, if a licence over a particular area is not renewed, anyone else could apply unless, of course, there is some other means of preventing it.

That answer ignores the fact that there is another means of preventing it under the existing act. The minister already has the power to exempt land from the operation of the Mining Act under section 8(1)(c). In fact, Warren Gorge, in the Flinders Ranges north of Quorn, is already an area reserved from the Mining Act. The official reason on the department's website is 'to prevent further mining in a scenic area'. My questions are:

1.Does the minister accept that he does have the power under the current Mining Act to protect parts of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary from mineral exploration?

2.Why does the scenic area of Warren Gorge deserve more protection from mining than the truly breathtaking and iconic areas around Arkaroola?

3.Which parts of the Arkaroola area does the minister think should 'never be open to mining', as stated in his news release on Saturday?

The Hon. P. HOLLOWAY : The Hon. Mr Parnell put out a press release, totally inaccurate and full of gross dishonesty, and did not refer to the main point I made at the weekend, namely, that the government was developing an environmental management plan for the entire northern Flinders region. We need to understand where the Hon. Mr Parnell is coming from: for a start, he opposes uranium mining, so any excuse that is around he will use. As soon as the Greens have one area closed off, they immediately start campaigning on another, which is fair enough as that is how they work.

The government believes that a much preferable way to proceed is to examine the whole Flinders area and not just Arkaroola, to identify those areas that are of particular iconic value in relation to their geological, environmental or aesthetic significance. The government has been undertaking that exercise in a collaborative effort between the Department for Environment and Heritage and the Department of Primary Industries and Resources. They have been looking at the mineral potential for that region so that in future we can better manage it. As I have indicated in this place on previous occasions, there has been exploration in that region for a century. Uranium was taken out of that region back in 1910 for Madam Curie in her early experiments, and there has been on or off mining and exploration activity since that time.

In future, as has come out of the experience of the past few years, we need to identify those areas of not just Arkaroola but of the whole northern Flinders Ranges which have special value in relation to their geology, tourism value or environmental significance. That exercise has been under way for some months now, and I expect that the Minister for Environment and Heritage will be able to release that information in the fairly near future.

Through continuing the licence Marathon has but keeping on ground and activities under suspension, the government is able to control what happens in that area; in other words, it can restrict any ground disturbing activity at least until two things happen: first, the changes to the Mining Act to which the honourable member referred and which I had indicated in a previous answer; and, secondly, developing this environmental management plan and identifying those areas. The honourable member will have that part of his question answered when that information is released fairly soon. Obviously the government needs to talk to stakeholders involved, which goes beyond just Marathon, as there are a number of other mineral exploration licences over the northern Flinders Ranges and other stakeholders are involved, and the government will discuss it with them before it releases that information for discussion hopefully in the relatively near future.

Given that Marathon's licence expired on Saturday, the government had to make a decision on how it would deal with the situation going forward. Through the extension of a licence but keeping activities suspended, the government has been able to keep control of the situation. Had we not done so—the honourable member read out my previous answer—it would have been possible for any other company to apply for a licence; and, had the government refused and gone to a challenge through the courts, they probably would have been successful.

The difference in relation to Warren Gorge, which the honourable member has raised, is that clearly it is one thing when a licence is not operative to use that part of the act, but I am sure that the courts would take quite a different view if upon renewal the government sought to act on the basis of that implication. I am sure the honourable member as a lawyer would understand that the interpretation would be significantly different had the government sought to set aside some area exempt from mining right at the time that a licence was up for renewal.

The Hon. M. PARNELL : I thank the minister for his answer. When the minister said (on Saturday) that some parts of Arkaroola should never be opened to mining, which parts did he have in mind?

The Hon. P. HOLLOWAY: As I said, these have been identified and the report will be out for discussion. The honourable member should wait until he sees it. I have seen it.

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink (the Shadow Environment Minister) interjecting:

The Hon. P. HOLLOWAY: The Liberals are always saying that we should consult. They do not understand that it is polite to first talk to the people who are affected. Should they read about it in the newspapers or should we talk to them first and explain it? That is what we will do. We will do it properly. We will consult in the proper way. We will talk to those people who might be affected by this and, obviously, seek their agreement, because there are parts of the Northern Flinders Ranges that are either not within the national park or not within Arkaroola, and there may well be parts that have been identified as of particular environmental significance.

There will be parts that will have a low level of significance and there will be parts that will have a high level of significance, but not quite as essential, if you like, or as significant as others. Clearly, some sort of gradation of that needs to take place, and that is being done by quite extensive surveying of the region, and that is best described through the maps.

What I can say is that the area around the Arkaroola Lodge itself, as I understand it, has been in some sort of geological reserve. They are all matters that will be out for discussion, but we would like to, at least, give the stakeholders concerned some notice first before we make that information public.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

arkaroola cyberaction takes off

link to the TWS cyber-actionThe Wilderness Society's cyberaction to defend the Arkaroola Sanctuary has generated an impressive total of correspondence - some 1300 letters at the time of my writing - directed to Premier Rann asking him personally to intervene to save the Arkaroola Sanctuary from the mining lobby.

You can see it - and sign it - online here. You can also see some of the comments people are making in their individual letters, and I've culled a few below to make clear what Australians think of the Sanctuary, and to serve as examples for further correspondence.

liz's message
The Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary is arguably South Australia's premier ecotourism destination and the very model of the type of business we need to be encouraging to develop in response to the increasing threat of global warming.

donman's message
We really do need to save some wilderness areas for our future generations to enjoy. Mining only lasts a few years - then the wilderness does not return.

earthmother's message
I grew up in Leigh Creek...lucky me. Arkaroola is a sanctuary, many camping trips there are in my childhood memories. People always comment on its beauty in photos. This is a very special place, it needs to be preserved and protected.

Leon's message
Apart from the undesirability of mining uranium in general, there is certainly no justification for desecrating the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary to do so. Surely Olympic Dam mine should satisfy any uranium demand?

gillian's message
I have travelled in Arkaroola and fell in love with its remote and untouched grandeur. It has a wild and harsh beauty unlike any other. Please protect its future.

alex's message
In recognition of Marathon Resources record of disregard for the environment in the Arkaroola Sanctuary, and in recognition of the natural value of the sanctuary in the state with the worst record for mammal extinctions in Australia (the country with the worst record of mammal extinctions in the world), I believe it would be a huge mistake, politically and environmentally, to renew the Marathon Mining lease on the sanctuary.

Mz's message
I personally 100% support this campaign, and believe I am representative of a majority of Australians who would wish to see the power and authority of government acting for an ethical and sustainable shift away from natural resource capitalism.
Our times have changed. Our eyes are opened. Our future matters.

anonymous's message
Arkaroola is a national treasure. I spent many weeks exploring it a few winters ago. This small crumpled semi-arid highland peninsula bounded on two sides by flat hot sandplains and the wilderness of the Mawson Plateau on the third is something I will never forget and yearn to revisit. The startling contours of the landforms, the dryland plants (oh, the beauty of those callitris trees) and secretive animals, the bright desert light and startling blue sky are unmatched anywhere. To scar or excavate let alone road or mine even a small piece of this precious place would be nothing less than desecration. If anything, Arkaroola and the adjoining Mawson Plateau should be permanently protected by law so even the idea of mining will never be considered again.

dick's message
I visited Arkaroola in the mid 1970s when I was living in SA. I was very impressed by the natural beauty and diversity of the area and also by the regeneration efforts of the people managing the sanctuary. Mining exploration would jeopardise all that they have done to restore this area to its pristine condition and would destroy its atttractivenss as an eco-tourism destination.

and, finally, my own message
Mr Rann, your Mineral Resources minister Mr. Holloway has spoken of the current system of protecting wild areas as 'imperfect' and of the need to identify those areas best excluded from mining.

He says he has raised this issue with both the Minister for Environment and Conservation, Jay Weatherill, and the SA Chamber of Mines and Energy, and that he proposed negotiations to this end involving conservation groups and landowners.

As Minister Holloway has said 'By and large, the mining industry as a whole does not want to be involved in mining and issues which create public controversy and which create conditions that are to the detriment of the mining industry as a whole.'

All this is commendable - however, it seems remarkably inconsistent with the notion of re-issuing Marathon Resources exploration licence! Did you not describe their activities yourself as 'cowboy'? What could be more detrimental to the image of both your government and of the mining industry?

Go to to make your own contribution.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

TWS cyber-action - and where's jay?

link to the TWS cyber-actionThe Wilderness Society has launched a cyber-action targetting the Premier of South Australia, Mike Rann, asking him to intervene directly to ensure full protection for the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary.

It's available online here. Now it's a very straightforward matter to get your voice heard - please do it, and feel free to circulate the link widely. The Premier must know that he cannot shirk dealing with this matter.

and where's jay?...

Don't you think it's a little odd that the only Minister you are hearing from in regard to the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary is Paul Holloway, Minister for Mineral Resources Development?

I certainly do! After all, we're talking about one of the state's premier wild regions, and a sanctuary designated under the National Parks and Wildlife Act!

So, where is the Minister for Environment and Conservation - Jay Weatherill - in all this? I've written to ask him (if you are inclined to contact details follow this letter);

The Hon. Jay Weatherill
Minister for Environment and Conservation
Parliament House, South Australia

Proper protection for the Arkaroola Sanctuary

Dear Jay Weatherill,

Firstly, I must say I was pleased to read of your department's recent acquisitions that have expanded the area of parks on the west coast of the Eyre Peninsula. I congratulate you on and your department on taking such important steps to preserve the wild characteristics of this important area.

However it is not, sadly, of good news that I intend to write.

I refer to the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, and your fellow minister Paul Holloway's recent announcement that Marathon Resources' exploration lease will be renewed.

I admit I find myself dumbfounded by your government's strategy in this matter. Here we have a world-class wild area, run as an equally world-class eco-tourism facility (so successfully it was inducted into the SA Tourism Hall of Fame in 2007) - and yet, here we also have an avowedly 'environmentally-conscious' state government that seems to going out of its way to facilitate an assault on an area that should have been a clear choice for full protection.

Now, apparently, your government wants to go so far as to provide a 'second chance' to a company that has already disgraced itself at a time there was the option to simply be rid of them forever to hand! This has to lead to serious questions regarding your government's commitment to the protection of wild areas.

I believe that it was patently apparent from the off that this magnificent wild area is not an appropriate target for the mining industry. I would hope that in your role as Minister for the Environment - and the Minister responsible for the Act under which this sanctuary was declared - that you would agree with this assertion. What part of the state is wilder, or more unique, than the Arkaroola Sanctuary?

Shortly after this poor decision to allow exploration in the first place the Premier compounded matters, rather making a fool of himself by insisting that this proposed mine was only 'near Arkaroola', rather than in the very heart of the Sanctuary! This is a delusion I trust no-one in Cabinet still suffers from! This is also sufficient to entitle the public to genuinely wonder where what sort of attention your government was paying to this matter.

Since that time we have had the illegally buried waste fiasco (not to mention the vandalistic assault on a geological monument) which I'm sure I have no need to elaborate on, and then the farce of trying to get any other region in the state to voluntarily re-house the waste. I suggest that this has not left a favourable public impression of either the mining industry or your government as a regulator of it.

Which leads us to what I would argue is the main problem. Why on earth is it up to PIRSA and its minister to make these decisions in this kind of situation? Are you really content that your colleague, Paul Holloway, acts as a de facto Environment Minister for a vast proportion of the land area of the state? Even in the bulk of the area of our designated reserve system your power to prevent mining is pitted directly against his to endorse it - and as for any other wild area that hasn't had the good fortune to be afforded even this meagre protection… well, you tell me what you can do!

Given this bizarre and precarious situation the 'protections' provided by the Mining Act - including the recent proposed amendments - are meagre consolation to those who value the state's wild heritage.

I refer to those recent proposed revisions. The discussion document that was circulated to accompany their publication contains much that is of grave concern in itself. For a start, an apparently timely - in fact, I'd argue, long overdue - provision to allow for an 'Early No' to proposed projects on public interest grounds, including environmental concerns, is described as being unlikely to make its way into the final draft, due, it would seem, to 'industry concerns'. It is then asserted that an 'informal' advice to the applicant should be sufficient to dissuade them from proceeding. Would you call this 'process' adequate protection for areas of the calibre of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary? In fact, does it even qualify as a process?

Another seemingly long-overdue provision - allowing the Minister to exclude any 'Special Declared Area' from the provisions of the Mining Act on public interest grounds, thereby halting any exploration or mining - is held in the discussion (again, apparently to allay industry fears) to merely be a provision to allow for the assessment of competing claims in highly-prospective areas! So much for the hope that common-sense protection from outrageous proposals was about to be afforded!

But we must still step back still further here - so it's left up to the Mineral Resource Development Minister to determine from the off whether a proposed project is too potentially threatening to Environment and Heritage to proceed? Would you say that this is satisfactory? You could 'have a word' to him, I suppose, much as he's apparently content to leave himself in a position where he could 'have a word' to a company proposing to, say, sink a shaft into the centre of the Mawson Plateau or dig up some Organ Pipe formations on the Mount Ive station (if you think I'm exaggerating here I suggest you go pay a visit to PIRSA's SARIG geoserver some time!)

Does this strike you as a responsible position for any government that maintains it wishes to do the right thing by the environment to hold? I am gravely concerned that for vast areas of the state any 'presumption of innocence' in conflicting land-use claims effectively rests with the mining industry. Consequently I've had to scramble around for 2 years trying desperately to defend one of the state's most spectacular wild regions from a project that should simply never have been given permission to proceed.

I'll add that Marathon's activities have hardly been a great advertisement for the mining industry in this state, either. No-one gains from bad policy.

This is acknowledged by Minister Holloway, and here I would like to quote him, speaking in Parliament at the time of the defeat of Mark Parnell's bill to ban mining in sanctuaries -

I think what needs to be remembered here is that we have a system of national parks where we try to assess values and set the ground rules where mining, which includes exploration, can and cannot take place. Clearly, that system is imperfect. There are some regions of the state, for tourism and other values, that probably are not in national parks but where we still would want to restrict mining. I have certainly been talking to representatives of the Chamber of Mines and Energy, and I think we also need to involve some of the conservation groups, about identifying them so that we can manage it better

By and large, the mining industry as a whole does not want to be involved in mining and issues which create public controversy and which create conditions that are to the detriment of the mining industry as a whole. They would rather avoid such issues. So, where there are areas of high conservation value or other aesthetic value that are not within national parks or are not within a classification of park that prohibits mining, we need to assess them. I know that my colleague the Minister for Environment and Conservation is aware of that, and we are trying to develop a system where we can ensure that we do not have these issues arise. [emphasis mine in both cases]

Can I ask how the development of this system is proceeding? Might I also suggest that the public is entitled to ask you both; if you won't act to protect the Arkaroola Sanctuary, where will you act?

So, ultimately, my question boils down to this; you, as the Minister for the Environment and Conservation, are the ultimate defender of the state's natural heritage; are you really content to see the magnificent Arkaroola Sanctuary go down to the 'mines and miners must be everywhere' lobby on your watch?

Yours faithfully,

Bill Doyle

contact details for Jay Weatherill

The Hon. Jay Weatherill
Minister for Environment and Conservation

Postal Address
GPO Box 1047

Phone: 8463 5680
Fax: 8463 5681