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.