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.

1 comment:

  1. I posted comments against the Mining, but have had no acknowledgment from the Minister.
    Thanks for updating the situation re Marathon's application - even if it is as clear as mud.
    Keep on posting about it, pls.


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!