Jabiluka: the plot thickens

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Jabiluka: the plot thickens

By Jim Green

Pressure from Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) has increased on the Mirrar traditional owners to concede on their opposition to Jabiluka uranium mine. The company has brought the construction of a decline into the uranium deposit to the edge of the Boyweg-Almudj sacred site.

ERA announced on May 11 that construction of the decline would be "temporarily suspended for technical and scheduling reasons" from May 18. The company said, "While this suspension is unrelated to negotiations with traditional owners, it incidentally meets the precondition given by them for their cooperation in discussions to develop a process to complete the interim cultural heritage management plan. We look forward to finalising consultations with traditional owners over the next few days."

But ERA did not intend to stop construction for long. According to the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation, which represents the Mirrar, ERA announced on May 13 that construction would proceed on May 22.

Gundjehmi spokesperson Matt Fagan said, "The desecration [of the Boyweg-Almudj sacred site] will occur despite ongoing pleas for construction to stop by the Northern Land Council, UNESCO and the Jabiluka traditional owners and custodians.

"ERA made the ludicrous and provocative offer of halting construction for three days ... to allow a cultural heritage management plan to be completed. The commonwealth has previously indicated that such a process will take months to complete.

"The Mirrar offered to cooperate in the cultural mapping of the mine site if ERA postpones construction ... until a cultural heritage management plan is completed. This offer has been rejected." The federal government has taken no action to protect the threatened area.

ERA and the federal government claim there are two separate sacred sites, Boyweg and Almudj, and that the mine tunnel runs between them. They assert that it is only in the last year that the Mirrar people have claimed the sites are connected.

Gundjehmi disputes these claims, saying that material indicating the integral connection of the two sites within the one dreaming story has been collected by the very experts that ERA and the government use elsewhere as sources to support their claims.

Democrat spokesperson on nuclear issues, Senator Lyn Allison, said, "Our information is that ERA ceased work after the very distressed Mirrar people contacted UNESCO officials who pressured the commonwealth. We understand that ERA were also pressured by its parent company, North Limited."

Allison said there is also no longer any intention by ERA to stop construction for up to a year, as it had previously announced.