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!