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...