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

e-mail: minister.weatherill@saugov.sa.gov.au


No comments:

Post a Comment

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!