Wednesday, December 22, 2010

'i can imagine what they are'

grasswren country! this beautiful hanging-valley on the ridgetop track is a drilling hotspot in SaB mining access zone 2b

I think this interview between ABC North and West's Annette Marner and acting Minerals Minister Jack Snelling deserves wider attention - particularly for those seeking to understand just how the government is justifying making such an unpopular decision - so I'm posting a transcript below.

Any reader of the following who took the time to comment online on the Advertiser's recent articles on the lease renewal can feel vindicated!

It's nice to see the ABC doing a good job of holding the government's feet to the fire, and you'd have to say that Paul Holloway owes Jack Snelling big time for having to be the actual man-on-the-spot who takes the flack for this decision!... (and the Mount Barker announcement, too! Biiiiiig time!...)

Interview : ABC Radio 639 SA North and West's Annette Marner interviews Jack Snelling, acting Minister for Mineral Resources Development, 21st December 2010


I want to go back now to February 2008 when the Rann Government suspended the mining exploration licence of Marathon Resources after Marg Sprigg and her brother, Douglas, of Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary found 23,000 bags of drilling waste illegally dumped at Mount Gee, which is in ... the wilderness sanctuary ... Marathon then admitted to dumping a further 40,000 tons in one of the deepest gorges in the Flinders Ranges ... Premier Mike Rann said at the time that this was a significant breach of the company’s licence conditions ... you’ve probably heard on the news that it appears that Marathon’s exploration licence will be extended, give or take the details of it, will be extended for 12 months. Jack Snelling is the Acting Minister for Resources in South Australia and joins us ...

So where does it actually stand? You can’t actually say that the licence has been extended for 12 months, can you at this point, are there not negotiations going on between the Government and the company?


There’s consultation ... the advice to me as Acting Minister was the Government was obliged to renew the licence. The company asked for a renewal of two years - the Government’s granting them a renewal of one year. We’re also proposing to remove the automatic right of renewal that was previously in the licence ... we’re also attaching greater conditions to the ... exploration activities that Marathon can undertake at Arkaroola.


Minister, what is the obligation that the Government is under to extend the licence?


Under the existing licence Annette there was a right of renewal, so the company, unless it was in some sort of significant breach of the exploration licence, the Government was obliged to renew the licence, otherwise we’d be exposing South Australian taxpayers to compensation to Marathon-


... a significant breach is not the dumping of about ... 53,000 bags of drilling waste illegally?


Well the company, as I understand, have remediated ... the site... the advice to me was that the Government was obliged to renew the licence, without South Australian taxpayers ... to compensation to Marathon.


Now you said that there are greater conditions that apply this time, what are some of the key things?


... what I’ve said to the company ... written to the company saying, ‘look, the Government’s prepared to extend your licence. It’ll only be for one year, it won’t be for the two years that you’ve asked for and it’ll be proposed to remove the automatic right of renewal ... there’ll also be conditions on your exploration activity’ ... the Government is in consultation with the company at the moment, but essentially what we’ll have is greater control over the activities that they undertake ... make sure that the ... previous environment in Arkaroola is protected.


Well greater control, does that mean greater scrutiny? I mean will officers from the department actually go up there and have a look at what’s going on?


Well, the detail of that’s got to be worked out ... the department will be discussing exactly what those conditions are with Marathon in coming days, but suffice to say that we want to make sure that any exploration activity that’s undertaken at Arkaroola ... causes minimal disruption to the environment.


What is your stand about whether mining should actually go ahead anywhere in the wilderness sanctuary at Arkaroola?


Well, the Government’s looking at all the options that are before it. I’m not in a position really to canvass what those options are, but the Government’s acutely aware of the environmental significance of Arkaroola and the importance of protecting it ... we know that there are very strong feelings about it ... we want to make sure that any activity that happens there is done in such a way that the environment is protected.


I don’t know if you had a look at page 17 of The 'Tiser
[The Advertiser, Newscorp's Adelaide daily BJD] today – the on-line responses under the heading ‘mining at Arkaroola’, what readers to the paper have been sending in to the Tiser-


-I’ve seen the article but not the responses, but I can imagine what they are-


“This government has no morals”, says Rhonda of Whyalla; “The most powerful force in all earth, the mighty dollar”, says someone else in the south; “This is disgusting, how can the Government in all logic grant this licence”, says another; “I suppose this is just seeking a balance on how to best reward really bad behaviour.” So that’s just some that are in today’s press Minister.


Look, there are two issues ... firstly there’s the renewal of the exploration licence ... the advice to me as Minister is that the Government was obliged to do it – if we didn’t renew Marathon’s exploration licence then South Australian taxpayers would be liable to pay out potentially millions of dollars to Marathon Resources to compensate them. That’s not something I wanted to do ... so we’ve renewed the licence and fulfilled what we believe is a legal obligation. What the advice from the Government’s lawyers is is we have a legal obligation to renew this licence.

Now as to the issue of mining in Arkaroola that’s I think another issue again. Remember that no application to do any mining has been received by the Government – no-one has put in an application as of yet to do any mining at all; this is purely exploration not mining ... the Government is looking at what its options are, but the Government’s very mindful of the environmental significance of Arkaroola. We want to make sure that that unique landscape is protected ... how we go about that, there is a number of options which are before the Government at the moment which we are considering.


Well Minister, thank you very much for joining us ...

...and what a happy time he must have had!


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

they're back - so it's time to act!

grab yourself a wilderness society 'no mine in arkaroola' sticker - see details below

Marathon's project rattles on for another 12 months despite it's chequered history and clear public opposition.

The Adelaide Advertiser has started examining some of the Labor links of the lobbying muscle being deployed on the company's behalf -

Labor mates' lobbying a 'threat' to Arkaroola

* Sarah Martin, Political Reporter
* From: The Advertiser
* December 21, 2010 12:00AM

POWERFUL lobbyists connected to the Labor Party are winning the fight to mine Arkaroola.

Negotiations between Marathon Resources and the State Government began yesterday after the Government said it would renew the mining company's exploration licence for another year.

Marathon was suspended from drilling for uranium on the northern Flinders Ranges site two years ago after dumping waste in breach of its licence conditions, but new exploration conditions are now being negotiated. Sanctuary directors and conservation groups say the powerful forces backing Marathon - including a Chinese government-owned shareholder - mean protecting the area faces tough opposition.

Former Labor senator John Quirke is the registered lobbyist for Marathon, while another former Labor senator Chris Schacht is a company director. Labor powerbroker and union heavyweight Paul Howes has also lent his support to mining in Arkaroola.

Premier Mike Rann and Mineral Resources Minister Paul Holloway have both met representatives from CITIC, one of the largest state-owned conglomerates in China and a 17 per cent shareholder in Marathon.

Arkaroola Sanctuary director Marg Sprigg said she feared the lobbying effort would be stepped up over the next 12 months to allow Marathon to resume drilling.

Greens MLC Mark Parnell said the project was being pushed by "a conga-line of Labor luminaries". "Governments should make decisions on the basis of sound advice, not the sound of highly paid lobbyists whispering in their ears," he said.

A Government spokesperson said it was considering conservation options for the sanctuary.

You can make your own comment on this piece here -

sticker up!

And you can secure yourself a place in environmental campaigning history by displaying a soon-to-be iconic 'No Mine in Arkaroola' sticker on your car (see above).

Grab your sticker by contacting The Wilderness Society here in Adelaide; phone 8231 6586, or drop in at 7th Floor, 118 King William Street in the city, just north of the Pirie Street intersection.

(While not required a donation would help TWS in the production of more of the stickers! Some organizations aren't quite as cashed up as others... :-) )


Monday, December 20, 2010

they're baaaack!...

beginning the return trip on the ridge top tour - leaving [potentially mineable] siller's lookout
...but what does it all mean?

The SA government has announced the renewal of Marathon's exploration lease over the weekend.

However, what we don't know is the terms under which the exploration component of the lease may be undertaken. In fact, the government has announced that it will be discussing those terms with the company over the next month or so.

This begs an obvious question - why are they not also discussing these terms with Marg and Doug Sprigg, the owners of the Arkaroola Sanctuary? Who better understands the direct impact of exploration activity in these wild, semi-arid ranges?

The widespread and embarrassing scientific criticism of Seeking a Balance, their 'mining access plan' for the northern Flinders Ranges - particularly that coming from the SA Museum - hardly leaves Mike Rann's team in a position where they can credibly claim to have the environmental nous to supervise a mining company operating in this highly sensitive region.

Acting on minerals' minister Paul Holloway's behalf, science minister Jack Snelling has announced -

"There'll be stronger conditions on their exploration activities, stronger controls," he said.

"The Government's also looking at what its options are with respect to protecting the area and that could possibly mean the exclusion of mining to the most environmentally sensitive parts of Arkaroola."

What does it all mean? Of course there will be 'stronger conditions' on exploration activities - the changes recently made to the Mining Act were triggered by Marathon's waste dumping scandal in Arkaroola! So conditions are 'stronger' already; but what else do they have in mind?

And the exclusion of mining from 'the most sensitive parts' of Arkaroola makes perfect sense if we take an honest look and announce that the whole range area of the Sanctuary is 'the sensitive part'! Other than that we're just back in the dithering, 'dog's breakfast' crazy-quilt zoning territory of the already thoroughly-discredited Seeking a Balance!

It's difficult not to conclude, like Greens MLC Mark Parnell, that 'they're having a bet both ways', holding out hope to both conservationists and miners!

We were promised an official government response to the public submissions on Seeking a Balance along with this lease renewal, by the way, and we look forward to that shortly being made available.

one year only and no autorenewal

The company is being told they're only getting the one year on the exploration lease, and there'll be no automatic right of renewal upon expiration. Some of of us doubt there ever really was an automatic right of renewal to an exploration lease, but Minister Holloway has rather gone out of his way in parliament to justify himself on the basis of these supposed 'automatic expectations'. So, does this amount to painting one's way back out of the corner?

At any rate, clearly it's in the public interest that no company should expect that they're entitled to a renewal of any lease to access public resources.

And the public is definitely entitled to see the highest possible levels of protection for this iconic area of our State. It's time to end the farce of pretending that these necessary protections and mining can co-exist.

Extension granted for mining exploration [ABC online South Australia 20/12/2010]

Mining company Marathon Resources has had its exploration licence for the Northern Flinders Ranges in South Australia extended by one year.

The company applied for a further two years exploration after the licence expired in October.

Acting Mineral Resources Development Minister, Jack Snelling, says the State Government was obliged to approve the application under the Mining Act, but only by one year.

Marathon was caught illegally dumping waste at Arkaroola in 2008. [My link BJD]

Mr Snelling says the company will have stricter operating conditions and will no longer have a right of renewal.

He says the government will consult with the company over the next month to develop the details of the licence.

"There'll be stronger conditions on their exploration activities, stronger controls," he said.

"The Government's also looking at what its options are with respect to protecting the area and that could possibly mean the exclusion of mining to the most environmentally sensitive parts of Arkaroola."

The manager of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, Marg Sprigg, says the changes are a step in the right direction.

"We would've preferred if Marathon hadn't had their licence renewed but we understand the Government's position on this and the struggle to protect Arkaroola will continue on, but it is a clear indication to us that the Government recognises the long term sustainable value of places like Arkaroola," she said.

But Greens MP Mark Parnell says the Government should have banned mining in the area.

"The Government is mucking around with the long term protection of Arkaroola, they're having a bet both ways," he said.

"They're holding out hope to the mining companies that they'll be allowed back in and they're holding out hope to conservationists that long term protection is just around the corner."


Friday, October 29, 2010

cowboys call on parliament!

In February 2008, as he was announcing the suspension of drilling operations for Marathon Resources after the discovery of 22 800 bags of waste illegally buried in 2 large trenches bulldozed into the heart of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, Premier Mike Rann announced 'we won't tolerate cowboys'!

Well, last Friday a small posse of Cowboys and girls mosied over to the steps of Parliament house because, as they repeatedly hollered while waving their cordless drills, 'it ain't thrillin' if we ain't drillin'.

They begged to be let back, and with regard to their previous sins they pronounced themselves a very sorry bunch indeed. But none of this seems to have persuaded those ornery folks from The Wilderness Society or Dave Noonan from the ACF!

But it's Mike Rann they'd be looking to talk round.

With Mineral Resource Development minister Paul Holloway's amendments to the Mining Act having just cleared the lower house and likely to swiftly pass through the upper house next week, and with the government's own northern Flinders mining access plan Seeking a Balance quietly euthanased last week, the moment of truth is fast approaching for Mike Rann.

So what'll it be Mike - conservation or exploitation? Because as the public submissions on Seeking a Balance made clear, pretty well no-one is buying the line that you can have your wild heritage cake and eat it too in the northern Flinders Ranges.

(It's always interesting to speculate who thinks they know what. Take, for instance, Marathon's recent share price jump!)


Sunday, October 24, 2010


seeking a balance - click to read the reportThe Rann government's 'mining access plan' for the northern Flinders Ranges - Seeking a Balance - was quietly put to sleep with very little ceremony on Friday.

It will be mourned by few, including, apparently, mineral resources minister Paul Holloway, who said this of it last week -

(Seeking a Balance) went out for consultation...and several from both sides came back saying they didn't like the way we addressed the issue, so the Government accepted that, and said in that case we will frame a new response and we are in the throes of doing that.

'Several'!? It seems Paul Holloway is still pursuing some false notion of 'balance' by making statements like 'several from both sides'!

Perhaps he might cast the number of responses from the industry side that criticised the plan as being too restrictive on mining as 'several', but those who favoured the preservation of Arkaroola were numbered in the hundreds, not a few tens!

There were more than 450 responses, with 82% of these opposed to a mine in Arkaroola by the Government's own count - and only 10% in favour! (See Seeking is Unbalanced.)

The fact is that the proposal to allow mining in Arkaroola received an absolute whalloping in the SaB submissions, and Paul Holloway knows it! No amount of false-equivalence can conceal this fact.

This included a remarkably embarrassing submission from the SA Museum which described it as 'greatly flawed', and needing to be 'totally rejected'!

 an unconvincing carve-up - 'seeking a balance'- p15 - click for the full-sized mapFailing to take into account the overall context of the 'balance' (or lack of it) between conservation and mining in South Australia; failing to compare apples to apples (contrasting actual biodiversity - inadequately surveyed at that! - to potential mineral prospectivity); failing to define what the very mining 'infrastructure' it proposed to allow might be; failing to establish the very biological corridors that are central to the government's own strategies elsewhere in the state - this document was deeply, deeply flawed.

This was not a great moment for the Rann Government, and can hardly lead to confidence in their future management of the region!

So when Paul Holloway says 'we will frame a new response and we are in the throes of doing that' what can he mean?

The fact is that his government has categorically proved that it does not have the knowledge to undertake the very project that Seeking a Balance was premised on; the only thing it has shown clearly is it simply does not know enough about the biodiversity and sensitive ecology of the northern Flinders to possibly claim that mining and conservation can coexist or that it could hope to supervise that coexistence!

So what possible 'response' can Rann and co. cobble together now? They simply cannot claim that Marathon can return to active exploration because they have the competence to minimise impacts on a biodiversity they barely grasp.

The fact is they should never have allowed mineral exploration in the core of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary in the first place, and the only credible option they have is to acknowledge that fact and call off any mineral access, in line with the clear will of the people of South Australia.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

crunch time - choose your legacy for arkaroola!

the wilderness society's 'no mine in arkaroola' sticker

Marathon Resources' current exploration lease centred on Mount Gee, in the heart of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, expires tomorrow - 10/10/10.

Following up from my previous post, I have contacted mineral Resources Development minister Paul Holloway's office and was told that the decision to renew the lease will be tied to an imminent decision about the future of mining in the Sanctuary, and that this decision will be made at the state cabinet level.

Additionally, in the state's upper house on the 29th of September Paul Holloway responded to Greens MLC Mark Parnell's question regarding the lease renewal as follows -

There are really two issues here: one is the licence, but perhaps more important is the long-term position the government takes in relation to how mining operations should be regulated or controlled in future in the Arkaroola area. I would like to have that finalised as soon as possible. In many ways the lease issue, while it has a number of important ramifications, is perhaps a secondary issue.

While Holloway may regard the lease as a secondary issue I doubt that the public feels that way!

In fact, six letters to the editor published in South Australia's major daily The Advertiser yesterday all rather underscore this point - whenever public opinion has been sampled on this matter it is overwhelmingly in favour of conservation of this unique area rather than its exploitation.

That these letters requesting premier Mike Rann not to allow mining in Arkaroola came from as far afield as the UK and Germany should also serve as a warning to his government. This issue will not go away. It affects those who care about the preservation of truly wild places across the nation and across the globe.

Any decision to allow the continuation of mineral exploration in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, no matter how it is rationalised, will be seen by the public as a declaration of intent to support a mine in Arkaroola. Full stop.

There will be no wiggle room for Rann and Co. in this matter. I confidently predict that the bumper sticker shown above - whose first print run was exhausted within days - will proliferate across the nation!

your legacy - what's it to be?

Mike Rann must be thinking of his legacy at this stage of his career. Does he really want to be remembered as the man who let the miners into Arkaroola? Because whatever other good things his government may have done on the environment - and there have been many significant steps forward, including specifically in the field of conservation of wild areas - Arkaroola is what Rann will be most remembered for should he allow a resumption of drilling!

mike rann and david suzuki - what would dave say about the mine, mike? - link to my 'Arkaroola  - would U mine it?' set on flickr With Mike's mate David Suzuki due in the state to talk about his own Legacy, perhaps he should be asking the internationally famous conservationist what he would recommend that he do for the sake of posterity?

But, let's face it - in all likelihood we know the answer to that question already!

TWS calls for action

So, what can you do to ensure this magnificent area endures for posterity?

I am echoing The Wilderness Society's current call to the Labor Government not to allow mining in Arkaroola below (edited slightly for brevity's sake - if you are unfamiliar with the background to this issue please explore the extensive links on this blog!) -

The next week will be very important in the Arkaroola campaign.

It is completely unacceptable for Arkaroola to remain open to uranium exploration and mining, and we need to put pressure on the Government to consider the future of this precious place.

What can we do? Now is a really good time to get this issue vamped up. Have your say! You can:

1. Write a letter to the editor. Try sending a letter into a few different newspapers – it doesn't hurt. For tips, click here. Small or local newspapers are easier to get published in if you are writing a general letter that isn't a response to an article. Or try sending yours into bigger newspapers such as The Advertiser, The Australian, The Independent Weekly...

2. Contact a politician to tell them that we should protect Arkaroola. Try..

The Hon. Paul Holloway
Minister for Mineral Resources Development

GPO Box 2832

3. Contact SA Premier Mike Rann:

The Hon. Mike Rann MP

GPO Box 2343
Adelaide SA 5001

4. Make it heard! ... put up a link on your facebook page, tell your grandparents about it, spread it throughout your networks, email friends,call up radio stations, twitter it, share photos, whatever!

And if you get a letter published, let's celebrate! Send me an email or write on our facebook wall to tell us about it.

"Some places are too precious to mine... Arkaroola is one of them."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

counting down and out - where are we in the run up to 10/10/10?

beginning the return trip on the ridge top tour - leaving [potentially mineable] siller's lookout

Marathon Resources' Chris Schacht - a former federal Labor senator - gave us another 'interesting' take on his company's situation in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary yesterday, declaring on radio that they are entitled to be there because it turns out Arkaroola is only a pastoral lease, rather than a sanctuary!

On the Local 891 morning show the ABC's Matthew Abraham had responded to Schacht's original assertion that Marathon is entitled to mine in Arkaroola because 'it's a pastoral lease' by asking if it wasn't also a 'wilderness reserve'. Schacht responded -

No no, it’s a pastoral lease, under the law of South Australia it is a pastoral lease and the Arkaroola owners pay a fee as a pastoral lease, and that … by being a pastoral lease it has mining entitlements.

Those who have been following this issue - and this blog - may remember some of Chris Schacht's other 'interesting' takes, particularly at this time last year where he more-or-less suggested on the same ABC program that what Marathon had done during the dumping scandal was only a little light littering, and that the deposit at Mount Gee is 'the second biggest single deposit of uranium after Roxby Downs'! (See Dial M for Misinformation?!')

Just as before, it is surprisingly easy to refute Schacht by going to - Marathon's own publications! The company publicly released a federal Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC) referral for their proposed project in September 2007. In it, in section 2.3 on page 3 marked 'Locality' you will find the following -

The Mount Gee deposit is located on the Arkaroola Pastoral Lease, a gazetted Sanctuary under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972. The Arkaroola Sanctuary is operated as an ecotourism venture, hosting accommodation, scenic and educational activities. [Emphasis mine. h/t Dennis Walter]

In fact, at the Sprigg family's instigation Arkaroola was first declared a 'private wildlife sanctuary under [the] fauna conservation act' in 1969! And was formally declared a Sanctuary under the 1972 NPWS Act in 1996, nine full years ahead of Marathon's 2005 lease. [See here]

I think that's rather definitive, don't you? The anachronistic persistence of the mining industry's over-reach is one thing, this areas legitimate right to preservation - as espoused by those who can genuinely see it - is quite another.

but wait, there's more! -

Of course, the fun never really ends when some are involved, and Schacht also asserted -

I would point out that Mr Parnell’s amendment to ban all mining at Arkaroola, about eight, ten days ago … in the Legislative Council, the Labor and the Liberal party combined to defeat it, 15 votes to five. So both major parties opposed his amendment to ban mining full stop at Arkaroola.

Um, weeeeell, technically yes, Chris, but were you listening to the bit where the leader of the opposition actually said the following just before you spoke?

We believe that the Government’s intention is to allow mining. We want to seek to prevent them from doing that... at the moment Arkaroola is in an... environmental class A zone, where conservation of the environment and landscape is the paramount aim and the objective says mining operations should not take place unless the deposits are of such paramount importance and that exploitation is in the highest national or state interest that everything else can be over-ridden and we don’t think that you’d ever get to that situation given that there’s potentially about 30,000 tonnes in Arkaroola and 2.5 million at Olympic Dam … we want to maintain it as a Zone A, but the Government in their [Seeking] a Balance report at the end of last year wanted to move the boundary of Zone A and make it much more accessible to mining...[emphasis mine]

or even? -

our position is we believe Arkaroola’s precious and shouldn’t be mined [emphasis mine]

Or perhaps you read the press release on her website, Chris? It's helpfully called 'Liberals will move to protect Arkaroola' and this is what it says -

The State Liberal Party has decided that it will reject any proposal by the Government, now or in the future, to water down the Environment Zone A Protection that protects Arkaroola.

In its “Seeking a Balance” Report of late 2009 the Government suggested removing the Zone A Protection over the area of Arkaroola which is subject to the exploration licence of Marathon Resources. Removing this protection would open the door for miners to access Arkaroola.

Zone A Protection makes it clear that mining should not take place unless the deposits are of paramount importance and their exploration is in the highest national or state interest.

The Liberals believe that Arkaroola must be protected by maintaining its Environment Zone A Protection. Whilst the Liberals are very supportive of mining, including uranium mining, in this state, Arkaroola deserves the highest environmental protection.

To that end the Liberals will seek to amend the appropriate legislation to prevent any reduction in the level of environmental protection that exists under Zone A as it relates to Arkaroola.

So, leaving aside the politics of the Libs not supporting a Greens bill, it's clear that they will take the line that the Environmental Class A Zone provisions of the Planning Act, if understood in plain English, mean that mining is not possible now, and is not foreseeably likely ever to be possible, in the Arkaroola Sanctuary.

Just as was clearly the intention of those who wrote them. Just as I have frequently asserted myself.

remind me again; why are the miners even there?

This, being the state government's own legislation - in fact, Minister Holloway is responsible for it in his role as Planning Minister - rather begs the question of why Marathon was allowed to be there in the first place.

And what it is doing there now, for that matter. It's very hard to disagree with another of Redmond's statements -

[T]he Government shouldn’t have issued the new licence in our view, because if you don’t want mining to take place why would you issue a licence for people to explore given especially that these people breached their previous licence and therefore the Government would have been quite entitled not to renew it.

(Though this also begs the question of why the Libs waited so long to outrightly oppose mining - how different the state election result might have been had they taken this principled position ahead of the last lease renewal! But we press on, noting missed opportunities all 'round...)

Yes, Marathon's lease renewal is due on 10/10/10.

And now we find ourselves in a situation where Minister Holloway continues to defend his 2009 decision on the basis of his bizarre analogy of a perceived automatic entitlement to a drivers licence renewal. Is anyone, even Paul Holloway, really convinced by this line?

Minister, might we not consider that, if there'd been a serious and persistent breach of the rules that pertain to it, no-one should be entitled to view any licence as A Right. Particularly a right of access to profit from a public resource? And impinge upon very public landscape? Particularly where this licence renewal was actually at your absolute discretion?

In the circumstances hiding behind 'strict-interpretation' proceduralism was a cop-out, surely?

(And even if we accept your own analogy, does the community really expect that we must automatically renew the licences of, say, persistent hoon offenders even if they're not technically suspended at the time their renewal falls due and their fines are not in arrears? This coming from a government that wants to confiscate and crush cars! Similarly, as Matthew Abraham pointed out, this is ironic coming from a team that was perfectly happy to draft populist and draconian anti-association laws to contend with the bikie menace, real and imagined!)

now, there's no call for a ruckus down on the plantation!

Then there's what I think of as the Slavery argument. You know; we've always has Slavery here in the South - in fact, we've just celebrated the centenary of Slavery. Our economy depends on it. Therefore Slavery is an unquestionable good and it's persistence cannot be challenged. Substitute 'mining' and 'Arkaroola' for 'Slavery' and 'the South' and you get the idea! I'm not saying they're moral equivalents - the point, and it should be obvious, is that it's not exactly, um, logical to reason like this! 'Is' does not mean 'ought' and all that...

Oh, and then there's 'Sovereign Risk' - always pronounce it with The Capitals - an Economic voodoo term that might sound impressive but whose applicability in this situation is, well, debatable, to say the least! Just imagine the flight of investors had Marathon been held to account by withholding a new lease in light of their serious and persistent breaches of the existing one! Or if another one tenth of one percent of the land area of SA was taken out of the hands of the mining industry, leaving them with only 93% or so to work in! Oh, the humanity!...

But now we know what Holloway will probably do, come the lease renewal on the tenth, if he hasn't done so already. (My attempts to query his office directly on this for the last couple of days may yield results tomorrow!)

What we don't have to do is wear this. I don't think that Labor can seriously doubt that being seen as the only advocates of a possible mine in Arkaroola is electorally suicidal. The community's patience is wearing very thin indeed: Labor blew last year's opportunity to get out of it; if they persist now just watch the issue go national, and their poll numbers take a serious - yes, even more so! - dive...


Monday, August 9, 2010

it's the write time for the Liberals...

looking towards the mawson plateau from siller's lookout
Neither of the major political parties have covered themselves in glory over the Arkaroola issue.

In fact, it says a good deal about the status of 'democracy' in Australia that while the responses to Seeking a Balance, The Advertiser's online polling and the reader's comments associated with it, demonstrate overwhelming public opposition to mining, both the Liberals and Labor are seemingly more intent on an alleged bottom-line, and being seen as 'pro-business' and 'pro-development' than they are on acting to represent the will of the people in Parliament.

And, despite veritable mountains of rhetoric being piled up around us in recent decades, all too often it seems the protection of the environment is foremost in the consciousness of our elected leaders (at least those from the major parties) only up to the precise point at which some bright spark proposes a means to make even larger piles of money out of dramatically altering it!

Whereupon all bets are off, and the rhetorical focus switches to 'jobs', which, in any honest evaluation of Australian political language, is a polite way of saying 'profits', at least while it is still more-or-less impossible to achieve the latter without the former.*

Arkaroola, unfortunately, is hardly a unique example. But it is a very telling one.

the Liberals

Which brings us to the Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition in South Australia - the Liberal Party.

Had the Liberals had the foresight to bring a platform that included the full protection of the remaining wild areas of the northern Flinders Ranges to the state election earlier this year - as individual Liberal parliamentarians had proposed; this is more, unfortunately, that can be said for any member of the Labor Party - they may well have won it! Several races in marginal seats were very tight indeed, and the Greens primary vote was sufficient for formal or informal preferences to have swung the outcome - not to mention attracting a few more primary votes!

But is the Liberal leadership, like their Labor counterparts, too tied up with issues of 'responsible' governance in a Corporatist State to concern themselves with mere popular enthusiasms for preserving places of great beauty and biological, geological and social importance?

exploration is not mining!

For instance, here's what Opposition Leader Isobel Redmond told ABC News last week, regarding Marathon Resources' exploration lease in the heart of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary -

The difficulty I guess is that Marathon Resources have an exploration lease, now the Government chose to renew that exploration lease and if you're going to give someone an exploration lease then they've got the expectation that they're going to be able to mine it if they find whatever it is they're looking for. [my emphasis]

[NOTE: See Isobel Redmond's (remarkably prompt) reply to my letter regarding this matter which is appended below. The text that follows was written before I received this.]

Bong! It is genuinely disturbing that a senior politician could say this - the granting of an exploration lease does not automatically entitle any explorer to mine any materials that they may happen to find - and never has done so! One wonders why we'd go to the trouble of having Exploration Leases and Mining Leases if the one led automatically to the other?

Exploration is a risky business. Marathon is not entitled to 'expectations' merely because it has had a lease renewed - it has been told repeatedly that the area it is operating in is a landscape of tremendous ecological and historical importance, and that all exploration and mining activities would be significantly restricted accordingly. (And readers might well have formed their own opinion of the company's actual performance within such constraints.)

They have also been repeatedly told that any (relatively cheap) open-cut mining operation is completely out of the question, though it's become an open question as to what extent they have taken this on board! Other historical mineral explorers had been told the same thing, and accepted it.

Even within the - to my mind - utterly faulty logic of assuming this unique area could ever be opened up to exploration and hope to preserve its wild character no player could legitimately have an 'expectation' that they would be entitled to mine unless they could meet the most stringent environmental standards. Hence the very expensive tunnel that was the focus of reassuring us this remarkable balancing act could be pulled off!

exploration is mining!

But I agree with Redmond's reasoning to a more limited extent: it is this very notion of 'automatic' expectations that one activity will proceed to the other that is the major reason that Arkaroola should never have been open to exploration in the first place.

Visiting Arkaroola has been all the rage of late (heck, I've done it twice myself!). Various Parliamentarians have made their way up there recently, and this can only be a good thing as the very presence of the place can only exert a powerful pull to preserving it.

Redmond and other Liberals have recently completed an official tour, and the party is now deliberating their policy on mining there accordingly.

Given Redmond's reasoning above it seems clear that any Liberal support for continued exploration must also be read as Liberal support for mining. (And at this stage of the game Labor must concede the same for their part.)

Here's what the Liberal member for Goyder, Steven Griffiths, told local ABC radio last week.

ABC journalist: ...and you’ve been in Arkaroola having a look with the Liberal Party, does the Liberal Party have a position on Arkaroola yet?)

Griffiths: No, we’ve had presentations from Marathon Resources and also from the Sprigg family … wonderfully informed people, all of them, there’s no doubt … it’s an amazing part of nature that’s created this wonderful place … Marathon have a lot of work to do to try and get through any environmental impact statement requirements. The Sprigg family are doing all they can to convince people who will one day vote upon this not to support mining. There’s a lot of things to look at still. The Liberal Members that have been here and Isobel Redmond has been part of our team as Leader, has been up here looking at it today … we’ve all been very impressed by what we’ve seen and the Sprigg family and what the generations of people who have been here have put in to this property is just amazing.

With Marathon's next lease renewal due in less than 2 months - on 10/10/10 - the spotlight is certainly back on this issue.

its the write time (again!)

And so I find myself exhorting you, dear reader, that if you have a mind to it would be worth your while to once again to step up to the keyboard - or over to the phone - on Arkaroola's behalf. The Liberals must be reminded of the place Arkaroola and the wild ranges hold in the hearts of South Australians.

Here is my letter to Isobel Redmond, which i have cc'ed to Shadow Environment Minister Michelle Lensink and Shadow Mineral Resources Development Minister Mitch Williams (contact details below). Plus see her response attached.

Isobel Redmond
Leader of the Opposition
Parliament House, Adelaide, SA

Dear Isobel Redmond,

I am writing to you to encourage you and your party not to support the continuation of exploration and mining activity in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary.

I was pleased to hear that a delegation of Liberals had visited the area recently, and I am sure you cannot fail to have been impressed by its rugged and timeless beauty.

I note your own comments to the ABC last week indicate that you feel that a company that has been granted an exploration lease has a reasonable expectation that it will be able to mine. I cannot say that I agree with you - miners have been warned many times that the bar has been, and will continue to be, set very high indeed in this region and they can hardly claim to assume any 'automatic' rights to mine in it.

However, since you have made your own expectations clear I repeat my call to you and your party to oppose both exploration and mining in the Sanctuary.

I point out that submissions to 'Seeking a Balance' were overwhelmingly in favour of 'higher restrictions' on mining in the area by the government's own calculations. But my own investigations based on sampling the first (alphabetically) 100 of the 450+ submissions indicate some 90% of respondents are actively opposed to mining in Arkaroola full-stop, not just in favour of more stringent conditions.

The Advertiser's own online polling revealed a similar striking level of support, as did the associated comments that when closed at no. 104 were running almost exclusively in favour of preservation.

In fact, the support for Arkaroola would appear to be so overwhelming that if you had chosen to take a platform supporting its preservation to the last state election, and thereby managed to secure Greens preferences - or even gained primary votes - in key marginals, you may well have won it!

The people of South Australia do not want to see Arkaroola mined - there are plenty of opportunities to extract uranium across the state that do not involve permanent damage to a unique wild ecosystem,

Yours Faithfully,

Bill Doyle

reply from Isobel Redmond

Dear Bill,

Thank you for your email regarding the need to protect the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary.

As you correctly note, a number of Liberal MP's went there last week on what was essentially a fact-finding mission. We met with both the Spriggs and the representatives of Marathon Resources.

What I was trying to make clear in my radio interview was that:

1.If the government intended not to allow mining there, it should have not given a Mining Exploration Licence in the first place, or not have reinstated the licence after it was suspended.

2. The liberal team having undertaken this field trip in order to understand the issues, it would be inappropriate for me to simply announce a position on behalf of the team when we have not yet met as a Party room to discuss it.

I will ensure that your views, and those of many other concerned citizens are brought to the attention of my colleagues during that discussion.

Thank you for taking the time to contact me,


Isobel Redmond

I wholeheartedly agree with Point 1. Appeals to 'World's Best Practice' standards notwithstanding, with the Leader of the Opposition having made the 'support for exploration = support for mining' equation so clear what remains is to see what position the Libs themselves intend to take.

contact details

Isobel Redmond
Leader of the Opposition

Parliament House
North Terrace
Adelaide SA 5000

phone - (08) 8237 9137 Country Callers
fax - (08) 8237 9126
toll free - (SA Callers): 1800 182 097
e-mail -

Michelle Lensink
Shadow Minister for Environment and Conservation

Legislative Council,
Parliament House,
North Tce
Adelaide, SA, 5000

phone - (08) 8237 9434
fax: - (08) 8212 7075
toll free - (SA Callers): 1800 182 097
e-mail -

Mitch Williams
Shadow Minister for Mineral Resources Development, Deputy Opposition Leader

30 Ormerod Street
Naracoorte SA 5271
phone - (08) 8762 1211
fax - (08) 8762 1121
e-mail -

*If you doubt this try examining the contrasting political rhetoric surrounding, say, 'cuts' to the 'public service'.

For a start, the 'public service', it seems, is a sort of vast, congealed collective entity, unlikely to contain any individuals.

Public servants of all stripes - state and local government officers, administrators, teachers, nurses, etc. - generally don't hold positions so sacred as to merit the term 'jobs', nor have they achieved the exalted status of 'workers'. Perhaps they don't even have 'families' - and could they ever even hope to be 'battlers'?

No! Laying them off en-masse is almost a virtue, albeit, perhaps, a mildly distasteful one. Exalted status is apparently only available to those who work for the most profitable - and all too frequently the most environmentally destructive - sectors of private industry. A Party may well take up a platform that loudly proclaims a desire to 'save' the 'jobs' of, ooh, let's say 300 timber workers or miners and simultaneously propose to 'cut' 10 000 public service 'positions' - and no-one bats an eyelid!


Sunday, July 18, 2010

what a croc!

south australia - areas from which mining is excluded - link to the full-sized versions on flickr

Jason Kuchel is the head of the SA Chamber of Mines and Energy, the state's peak group for the industry.

This is what he had to say last Thursday regarding there being no need, as far as his industry is concerned, to create any special conservation legislation designed to protect the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary -

"Some people would like to see blanket bans on most of South Australia and if you end up with everywhere being off limits or almost everywhere being off limits then where do we get our resources from?" he said.

"If the concern is about the environment then companies need to demonstrate that they can mine in an environmentally-sensitive fashion."

Firstly there's that tired old straw-man argument about nasty Greenies who want to lock up the whole state, leading to a situation of 'everywhere (or almost everywhere) being off limits' and no resources being extracted - frankly, this claim is as absurd as it is dreary!

Those who don't already know this need only glance at the map posted above, which shows all the areas of South Australia that are actually off-limits to the mining industry. (Dark green areas - some of the red bits are excluded from exploration but are actually existing mines!) The best - conservative - calculation I can make is that this amounts to about 7% of the state.

Complete protection for the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary and surrounding ranges would not even add one tenth of one percent to that figure!

And is this really an industry hemmed in on all sides by 'no go' conservation regulations?

See for yourself. Lets add all the mining, petroleum and geothermal leases currently in existence to the map above, shall we? (I'll also pause here to remind you that the mining industry has access to more than 70% of the reserve system. They're the areas in light green you can sort-of see buried under all those leases!)

south australia - mining/petroleum/geothermal tenements + mining excluded and restricted - link to the full-sized versions on flickr

Need I say more? (For more discussion see seeking a balance - the missing maps.)

And what precisely does 'if the concern is about the environment' mean?

Concern about the environment should be the first consideration in an area like Arkaroola, and if the mining industry truly wants to be seen as ecologically responsible backing mining in this area is a bloody funny way to go about it! (If not bloody-minded!...)

Greens MLC Mark Parnell will introduce legislation to fully-protect the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary into the state's upper-house on Tuesday. It says a lot about the state of our 'democracy' that neither of the major political parties is likely to support this legislation, despite all the evidence indicating overwhelming support for Arkaroola being fully protected. You may wish to remember this in the run-up to the forthcoming federal election.

So, in honour of the occasion I've decided to bring an old friend back out of his enclosure -

crocodile tears 1 - link to the full-sized versions on flickr
crocodile tears 2 - link to the full-sized versions on flickr
crocodile tears 3 - link to the full-sized versions on flickr
crocodile tears 4 - link to the full-sized versions on flickr


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

take a virtual ridgetop tour on the desktop toyota

approaching mount gee from the ridgetop tour

Stop one: Mount Gee.

Welcome to the VRTT - the Virtual RidgeTop Tour. This tour focuses specifically on those areas of this section of Arkaroola targetted by the mining industry - and made available to them by the state government and its 'Seeking a Balance' (SaB) mining access plan.

Other tours of the industry's target areas will follow - but why not start with one of the most famous 4WD treks in Australia?

(For the complete selection of images see the ridgetop tour set on flickr.)

First stop - see above - Mount Gee, the crystal mountain. This is how it looks as you approach it along the Ridgetop Track.

Mount Gee has been the major target for Marathon Resources' recent exploration drilling program, and has been extensively investigated by previous miners. While Seeking a Balance has placed the already heavily drilled upper sections of Mount Gee into the relatively restrictive Access Zone 2a, this photo is taken from an area assigned to Access Zone 3 - 'standard mining regulations only' apply (that is, no extra conservation protections have been assigned here in the heart of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary. This designation is given to the bulk of this central portion of Arkaroola Sanctuary.)

(You can follow our progress on the VRTT and the state government's proposed mining access zoning in better detail here. A detailed discussion of SaB's proposed zoning can be found here.)

mount painter from the ridgetop tour

Stop two: Mount Painter.

The upper slopes of this extinct mud-volcano are also assigned to 'no high impact' exploration activity Access Zone 2a. However, non-intrusive ground-sampling and aerial exploration is still permitted, and 'infrastructure' (undefined) may possibly be installed here. Mining companies may also hope to tunnel in underneath it from adjacent access zones that allow it (and simultaneously saving themselves $millions in vertical drilling in the process! See later discussion for Access Zone 2b.)

mount painter from the split rock lookout

Stop three: the Split Rock lookout.

Here at the lookout itself we have reached a small area where mining is not actually permitted(!) (It's perhaps worth noting that several - unkind, surely? - expert opinions offered to the Seeking a Balance consultation observed that the area immediately around Split Rock has been previously explored and found to contain no minerals worth obtaining! Perhaps it's just a coincidence!?)

However, we can see plenty of countryside the miners can hope to target from here, including Mount Painter, as seen here, and as discussed at stop two immediately above.

mount gee from the split rock lookout

And if we swing our view to the west we can see Mount Gee again, and the valley lying to its east between it and Mount Painter. The small basin lying immediately below Mount Gee - here obscured by a low ridgeline - was the site of the illegal dumping of 22 800 bags of waste, some of it radioactive, by Marathon Resources.

This basin is assigned to Access Zone 2b, which differs from Zone 2a in that it allows for drilling. The two zones share a proviso allowing for the installation of 'infrastructure' (still undefined), and would-be drillers and infrastructuralists must obtain the Department for Environment and Heritage's approval before proceeding. (Given that SaB itself and its zoning is a joint project of the DEH and Primary Industries SA [PIRSA] Minerals conservationists may not want to get too excited about this!)

In fact, if we zoom in...

zooming in on mount gee from the split rock lookout

...we can see extensive exploration scarring on the flanks of Mount Gee above this basin. And even some of Marathon Resources' polytanks! (Click the image to see details)

All this apparently constitutes 'rehabilitation' in PIRSA's eyes - you'll forgive me if, as a professional revegetator, I fail to subscribe to their 'optimistic' theories about what can actually be done to genuinely rehabilitate such wild semi-arid areas. Particularly given the recent persistence of drought conditions! As we'll see, the area between Mount Gee and Siller's Lookout - the outward-bound terminus of both the real RTT and this virtual version - is extensively scarred by exploration tracks old and new.

split rock and the upper east painter gorge

Here we see Split Rock itself. It's a great spot and worthy of its Access Zone 1 full protection - sadly the East Painter Gorge, which you can see falling away below it, is not so lucky.

In fact, like the spectacular Yudnamutana Gorge (we'll see it from Siller's Lookout as we travel on, and a separate virtual tour of it is pending), one side of East Painter (short tour also pending) is afforded some - relative - protection (in this case Zone 2b with its DEH approval for drilling), while the other is left in Access Zone 3 - 'standard exploration and mining access'!

The East Painter and Yudnamutana Gorges also happen to be the most viable access routes from the core of the sanctuary - where the bulk of the currently-claimed uranium deposits are located - to the adjacent plains, where any processing facilities would be located.

Moving along...

diamond dove on the ridgetop tour

...we pause to admire some local wildlife (in this case a Diamond Dove)...

the armchair - note the exploration scarring

...and pass the Armchair on our left. Like its neighbouring peaks, the Armchair itself is in Access Zone 2a, but all the country you can see in the foreground here is assigned to Access Zone 2b - drilling allowed with the DEH's approval.

'Infrastructure' can conceivably be installed anywhere in this region. I'll leave it to you to imagine this!

You can see an extensive network of exploration scarring from access tracks in the foreground here, another reminder of how sensitive these semi-arid regions actually are. (Click on the image for a larger version and more detail.)

We will come back to the Armchair on the return journey.

Moving on we finally reach...

the final run up to siller's lookout

Stop three: Siller's Lookout

Now we are back firmly in Access Zone 3 - 'standard exploration and mining access'. No specific conservation provisions apply to Siller's Lookout itself and the bulk of the surrounding countryside you can see here. And this despite the Environment Minister of the time saying, while launching SaB -

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

(See Not a great Lookout for Siller's for more on this issue.)

yudnamutana gorge from siller's lookout

Now we're directly overlooking the Yudnamutana Gorge. The state government has decreed, in its wisdom, that almost all of the land on the southern and eastern (right-hand side here) of the gorge is assigned to Access Zone 3 - no additional protections - while the northern and western side is allocated to either Access Zones 2a or 2b.

Could you see this as a view overlooking a haulage route, or the right-of-way for a slurry pipeline? With a large processing facility and extensive leach dams out on the plains near the mouth of the gorge?

Or perhaps we might even see the mouth of an access tunnel, and trucks continuously entering and leaving the decline? Sure, Marathon sometimes say they intend to tunnel in from the plains and mine underground, but even that will require extensive access tracks and ventilation and emergency access shafts, and somehow in late 2009 online investment gurus Fat Prophets had formed the impression they're still looking to implement open cuts! (See It's the Pits!)

And SaB is a document that supposedly sets up access regulations for all mining operations in the far-northern Ranges, not just Marathon's. These 'Mining Access Zone' designations render this area perpetually vulnerable!

looking towards the mawson plateau from siller's lookout

Turn north and look out towards over the upper Yudnamutana Gorge and the Mawson Plateau. The Mawson Plateau - the dark line of very high country on the horizon - is assigned to Access Zone 1; that is, No Access! Hoorah! (Some people also unkindly insist it's not prospective, either! But no matter...)

Other than that what you can see is a mosaic of SaB Zones 3 (everything on this side of the deep Yudnamutana Gorge, which lies at the rear of the ridge in the middle-ground) and 2a (everything beyond that and up to the plateau.)

So it's anything goes (PIRSA variant) in the foreground and perhaps parking the infrastructure to support it at the rear! This to be inserted into one of the most spectacular views in South Australia; seriously, you could not make this stuff up!

butterfly feeding from a rough bluebell

a grand vista; wild - and largely unprotected - country

So we pause a little longer at the lookout to take in the sights and wonder how anyone could see this as a great spot for a mine. And then retrace our route...

grasswren country!

...pausing to absorb the beauty of a hanging valley of mallee and spinifex that is the home of flitting grasswrens (and located in drilling-accessible Zone 2b)...

the armchair at day's end

...and return to the Armchair (a fitting place to end any trip, surely?!)

Again, note the exploration tracks on the ridge opposite. The country you can see here is drilling-accessible Zone 2b in the foreground while the Armchair itself at rear is Zone 2a, and hence can theoretically be mined underneath from the surrounding country. Not to mention the potential for installing 'infrastructure'; whatever that might be!

That concludes our short tour. Thanks for riding the Desktop Toyota! Tell your friends!

(Don't forget you can see the full set of images on flickr!)


a fine specimen - SA's own Xanthorrhoea quadrangulata


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

it's the pits!

insert hole here? click for the 'undermined!' set on flickr
this is the arkaroola wilderness sanctuary...

Vanda K's picture of the Leigh Creek coalfield
...and this is a hole in the ground! if you can spot the difference - read on!

Reading Paul Howes' - National Secretary of the Australian Workers' Union - submission on Seeking a Balance, the state government's 'mining access' plan for the northern Flinders Ranges, is a rather extraordinary, and also disturbing, experience.

Extraordinary, for a start, for what it contains.

For one, a table, on page 4, under AWU letterhead, entitled 'Marathon's vision for an enduring legacy.' I think it's fair to assume this was drafted by the company. This sets a range of Marathon's proposed activities against a background of the specific targets of the South Australian Strategic Plan.

Now, why would they do that? There's already a specific plan for the Flinders Ranges, and the much-discussed Class A Zone is the core of it.

Perhaps because -

The AWU notes the concerns of Marathon Resources in this regard and also their support for a triple bottom line approach instead of zoning which was being pursued by the South Australian Government through Planning SA in 2008 but which has apparently progressed no further since December 2008.

In other words, it seems Marathon were expecting a 'get out of jail free' card with respect to the Class A Environmental Zone restrictions - which, after all, effectively make mining uranium in Arkaroola impossible if the document is read and understood in plain English.

This may help to explain recent press comments where Marathon have supported Class A as sufficiently restricting upon them without need of further regulation, despite its apparently going well beyond that and dealing them a death-blow; they were simply expecting to be able to effectively bypass these 'precluding' restrictions.

it's the pits!

But the real concern for me was to be found in the AWU's submission's appendix: 5 verbatim pages taken from online investment gurus Fat Prophets' November 2009 assessment of Marathon Resources position in the light of Seeking a Balance.

Marathon have a history with Fat Prophets, having originally seen their share price perform rather nicely, thank you, after it was made one of their recommended stocks in 2006. We can only assume that FP and MTN (Marathon) have worked pretty-closely together. So it's very striking to see the following included -

The mining concept for Mount Gee will include a mixture of open pits and underground mines targeting high-grade zones.

What is it with the open cuts? Marathon are supposed to know that any such program is absolutely out of the question. As minerals minister Paul Holloway told Parliament in February 2008 -

This government has... also made it clear to companies that we will not allow any mining involving significant surface disturbance; in other words, there would be absolutely no chance of getting any sort of open-cut mining or anything like that in the area. [Emphasis mine]

Could that be any more straighforward? And yet here, nearly two years later, is a declaration by a presumably well-informed party claiming open-cuts will be an integral part of the process!

We must also remember what Marathon told The Advertiser's Cameron England in regard to the legal dispute between former Marathon CEO Stuart Hall and the company. Hall, they alleged, had publicly announced a proposal to access the area exclusively via a very long decline (tunnel), so as to reduce potential environmental impacts in the ranges. This was costed at a fairly-alarming half a $billion, and Marathon complained that Hall had made the statements...

...'without authority from Marathon's board of directors', and at a time when the firm was assessing the feasibility of various options for mining Mt Gee.

Marathon said the statements did not reflect Marathon's then current intentions, and Mr Hall should have known the statements would have 'a material adverse impact on Marathon's capacity to procure debt.'

Yet the 'all underground' aspect was supposed to be one of the projects key 'environmental' selling points!

The public has a clear right to be told; is Marathon simply - and inexplicably - persisting in planning open-cut operations in the heart of the Arkaroola sanctuary, despite being repeatedly told it's out of the question? Or are they doing so with the state government's knowledge and consent, implied or otherwise?

(For more discussion see tunneling in for some pure black comedy.)

Could this perhaps help to explain why Marathon has chosen to withhold its own submission on Seeking a Balance from the public? Surely we are entitled to know what they are planning? Not only is Arkaroola a state icon, a unique wild landscape, and one of our premier tourism destinations - the minerals concerned are, after all, the property of the people of Australia.

And, before we stray too far, note the reference to 'mines' - plural - in the Fat Prophets quote above.

So, the AWU submission has sent us us an ominous message indeed! One that we cannot ignore if we care for the future of SA's truly wild areas.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

one-sided article stirs community indignation

in yudnamutana gorge near hodgkinsons - great mining country, do you think? 

Perhaps you have already caught The Advertiser's front-page article of Friday giving great play to the Australian Workers Union's claim that we need to mine the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary?

The article as originally published was strikingly one-sided, putting the case of the union, SACOME, Marathon, the Australian Uranium Association, and a brokerage house to spruik the supposed economic advantages of Marathon's plan, and specifically to negate the need to have further 'restrictions', as in those put forward in the state government's Seeking a Balance 'mining access' plan, placed on mining.

It then gave space for limited counterclaims, focussing mainly on film-maker Rolf de Heer, which perhaps also explains the fairly remarkable choice of a still from 'The Tracker', featuring the film's villain - a very hissable Gary Sweet - holding David Gulpilil in a collar and chain, as a front-page image to accompany the article. (The internationally acclaimed film was made in Arkaroola, for reasons of landscape spectacle that de Heer makes clear, but this still photo scarcely conveys a sense of this.)

Now Rolf de Heer is a fine man to defend the sanctuary, and a great film-maker, but such a limited sample is no way fairly represents the breadth and depth of the opposition to any proposal to mine Arkaroola. I have tackled these issues in a letter to the Editor that is attached below, but I will point out here that, apparently after objections and the intervention of Senator Nick Minchin, the article has been significantly revised to put the case opposing mining much more strongly.

In fact, the AdelaideNow (The Advertiser online) SA homepage banner for the article has transformed itself to 'Arkaroola too precious - Minchin.' This is interesting given that the headline of the piece is still 'Union calls for uranium mining in Arkaroola sanctuary'!

This may also be a response to The Advertiser's own online polling - as of the time of writing the responses to the question 'Should mining be allowed in Arkaroola?' were running as follows -

Yes, we need the cash - 7.16% (105 votes)
No, it'll cause irreperable damage - 79.88% (1192 votes)
Under strict conditions - 12.96% (191 votes)

('Strict conditions' are nowhere defined.)

worthy of comment

Online comments on the article appear to have closed on Friday afternoon at number 102, overwhelmingly - and I do mean overwhelmingly - favouring complete protection for Arkaroola. They're well worth a read and should greatly cheer any real friend of wild Australia.

Again, the message to the state government could scarcely be clearer; if this is, in fact, a democracy the miners must pack up and leave the sanctuary! Or be made to do so.

My letter is as follows -

Dear Editor,

I was dismayed to read your front page article of Friday that reported that the Australian Workers Union and some mining and brokerage firms are promoting the mining of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary and the adjacent wild ranges.

I do not feel that this piece gave an accurate assessment of the situation, or managed in any way to convey the depth and extent of opposition to mining that was clearly indicated by reading the publicly available submissions made on the state government's Seeking a Balance 'mining access' plan.

In fact, it seems likely that the forces in favour of mining, which amounted to only 10% of the submissions received by the government's own count, ran to the media shortly after the release of submissions in order to attempt to confound a very clear message; that the overwhelming majority of respondents call for Arkaroola to be protected for posterity.

Your paper has already highlighted the SA Museum's opposition; not only did it produce a formal submission to this effect, there were further submissions on behalf of individual staff members.

To these we can add calls from other academics - biologists and geologists, including a Primary Industries SA former chief geologist - from across the state and across the globe. In the light of all these the government cannot hope to maintain that it has adequately assessed the biological and heritage values of this unique region.

The tourism industry was particularly prominent in submissions, both at a small business and association level. Ecotourism Australia's submission reminds us that the Flinders Ranges attracted 439,000 overnight stays and $169 million in 2007, and that 97% of foreign visitors participated in nature-based activities while there. The industry, a major employer, and local government are understandably gravely concerned at the damage any mine will do to the appeal of the ranges.

Marathon's claims for the value of the uranium resource and its benefits to the economy, on the other hand, are both speculative and controversial.

The Sprigg family have benefitted the state enormously in their role as custodians of this magnificent landscape. They deserve our full support in ensuring it endures forever. The Advertiser's own online poll, and particularly the comments attached to the associated article, have served to spectacularly reinforce this unambiguous message from the people of South Australia.

Bill Doyle

it's the minimum!

old exploration workings in hodgkinsons, yudnamutana gorge - we are apparently to believe this is 'rehabilitation' - what do you think?I must also point out here that Seeking a Balance contains one very clear message 'The area zoned in this document is the minimum area for protection.'

Call to mind that the utter inadequacy of existing levels of protection, and the lack of any capacity to enforce them, was made abundantly clear by Marathon's waste-dumping scandal, and yet certain industries and organizations, in calling for no extra protections whatsoever, are apparently so used to getting their own way that they feel any such constraints - however feeble they might be (and most respondents certainly recognised SaB's as feeble) - simply cannot be intended to apply to them.

Inadequate to the task of protecting the ranges as it is, Marathon and the industry brought SaB on themselves in response to community outcry - let us never forget - and yet they are happy to rattle on about 'Sovereign Risk' as though this was some caprice on the part of government!

The word 'arrogance' comes quickly to mind, if not outright 'hubris'!

(The 'mission creep' of the phrase 'Sovereign Risk' as it evolves from an economic term applying strictly to a given state's willingness and capacity to meet its debts into a standard tool of the deregulationist mantra when faced by any potential new restriction, no matter how reasonable or obviously called for it might be, is a discussion for another day!)

punching the numbers

I am systematically working through the list of publicly-available submissions.

As of the first 100 submissions alphabetically - this out of more than 450 - I find that 90% wish to see no mining in Arkaroola and/or the adjacent ranges, and a further 5% want restrictions on mining greater than SaB would afford. Only 4% wish to see the area opened up to mining.

I will complete my own assessment of all submissions, but I will observe here that the state governments' own count that suggests 82% wish to see 'further restriction', while doubtlessly roughly accurate, does not make clear the extent of outright opposition to mining, full stop.

I will close this post with a quotation that concludes a submission for a former senior geologist for Primary Industries SA, which indicates the extent to which protection for Arkaroola gets support across the spectrum of opinion on mining -

In conclusion, I am pro-mining (in the right environment) and I am pro-uranium as a source of energy, but I (and every other sensible person) would not consider condoning mining under Wilpena Pound if an economic mineral resource was discovered there. The Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary in its entirety should be seen in exactly the same light.

 old exploration workings in hodgkinsons, yudnamutana gorge - we are apparently to believe this is 'rehabilitation' - what do you think?