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."