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?



  1. I'm hoping Paul Howes' rather late and bizarre entry into this issue has more to do with political defence of the Rann Government than any serious policy advocacy... otherwise he better prepare himself for a backlash from his members.

  2. 'Bizarre' you say? Well, a document put out under union letterhead that contains 5 pages of copy and graphs taken verbatim from online investment gurus 'Fat Prophets' - lamenting the fate of MTN at the hands of SaB (culminating in a strikingly unsentimental 'sell' and 'switch' recommendation!) - and a table entitled 'Marathon's vision for an enduring legacy' certainly may merit the term! I might yet have to direct some more attention to it (h/t also Mike B)


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!