Court upholds shonky uranium approval

Protest against the Yeelirrie uranium mine. Photo: Walking for Country

The Traditional Owners of the Tjiwarl native title claim lost their Supreme Court appeal to have the approval for the Yeelirrie uranium mine revoked on July 31.

The proposed mine site, 500 kilometres north of Kalgoorlie, was given approval in 2017 by then-state Coalition environment minister Albert Jacob just 16 days before the government entered into a pre-election caretaker period.

The election that followed produced a resounding defeat for the Coalition in an election in which environmental issues ranked high on the political agenda.

The mine’s federal approval application was subsequently finalised by then-federal Coalition environment minister Melissa Price the day before Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a federal election would be held in May. Price’s constituency takes in the proposed Yeelirrie mine site, which is one of Australia’s largest uranium deposits.

Both environment ministers ignored the advice of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) WA and their own departments in signing off on the project.

Price went as far as to admit that, had she not given approval with less stringent conditions than those recommended, it was highly likely that the project “could not go ahead”.

The Labor state government won the 2017 election with a pledge to ban all new uranium projects. However, it made exceptions for four projects that had previously been given state approval, including Yeelirrie.

Australian Conservation Foundation anti-nuclear campaigner Dave Sweeney told the ABC that the timing of both approvals amounted to a subversion of the official approval process: “This reeks of political interference, rather than a legal consideration or due process…

“We need decisions that are based on evidence and the national interest, not a company's interest or not a particular senator's or a particular government's interest.”

Conservation Council of WA’s Piers Verstegen said of the approval: “This case has confirmed our worst fears — that it is legally admissible for a minister to sign off on a project against the advice of the EPA and in the knowledge that it would cause the extinction of multiple species.”

Traditional Owner Vicki Abdullah said they would continue to challenge this project on their country: “We won't give up — our country is too important. We will continue to fight for Yeelirrie and to change the laws.”