By Sarah Wilson
Over recent months, Aboriginal and environment groups have united to campaign against the proposed uranium mine at Jabiluka in Kakadu. They argue that the mine is irreconcilable with both the wishes of the traditional owners and the area's World Heritage listing.
At a media conference on August 21, the executive officer for the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation (GAC), Jacqui Katona, said that the Mirrar traditional owners of the site were "extremely disappointed" at the government's Kakadu Region Social Impact Statement, released on August 20.
Speaking with Chris Doran from the Wilderness Society, Rodrigo Gutierrez from the National Union of Students (NSW) and Dave Sweeney from the Australian Conservation Foundation, Katona said: "We are simply asking that the rights of traditional owners be recognised, that they have the ability to exercise those rights equally with other land-holders.
"They shouldn't have to make this sacrifice. There is no other community in Australia that has to make this sacrifice."
On August 22, the federal environment minister, Senator Robert Hill, made his recommendation regarding mining to the minister for energy and resources, Warwick Parer.
While Hill's decision has not been made public, Katona believes that the mine will probably be approved. She says that the Mirrar people intend to pursue the matter, both in the courts and by campaigning for public support.
More than a dozen environment groups from around the world have signed a letter to Hill and the World Heritage Committee in Paris asking that Kakadu National Park be listed as "World Heritage in danger". The letter argues against the proposed underground uranium mine and supports the arguments of the GAC.
Energy Resources of Australia, which will operate the Jabiluka mine, owns and operates the Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu. Ranger was the subject of an unsuccessful legal action by the traditional owners of the site, who strongly opposed it.
The Ranger and Jabiluka sites are not currently included in the Kakadu National Park, but they are on Aboriginal land and could be included again if the mining is stopped.
In October 1996, the World Conservation Congress passed resolutions on Kakadu's World Heritage status, including a clause urging "the government of Australia to prevent the development of Jabiluka and Koongarra [another proposed site] uranium mines, should it be shown that such mining would threaten the park's World Heritage values".
According to the supervising scientists' annual report of 1990-91, the Ranger mine has already affected the site's World Heritage status:
"The water quality of Magela creek, close to the boundary of the [Ranger] project area and Kakadu National Park, deteriorated in the 1991 wet season to the extent that uranium and sulphate reached concentrations higher than background levels and concentrations of magnesium exceeded the receiving-water standards implicit in NT regulatory controls."
Environmentalists and traditional owners fear that contamination from the tailings from a mine at Jabiluka will further pollute the park.
On August 22, Katona and other Gundjehmi representatives attended a 300-strong rally at Macquarie Place in Sydney as part of a national day of action against the mine. The protesters marched to John Howard's office before demonstrating in front of ERA's Sydney offices.
In Brisbane on the same day, radiation-suited protesters declared the office of Warwick Parer a nuclear zone and cordoned it off while yellowcake and a list of demands were delivered.
Two protesters were arrested for writing in chalk on the pavement: "No more uranium mining. Leave it in the ground." Kate Lecchi from the Jabiluka Action Group said the arrests were "ironic considering uranium remains radioactive for 300,000 years while chalk lasts five minutes".