Jabiluka: pressure on Howard, ERA grows

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Jabiluka: pressure on Howard, ERA grows

There were mass arrests at the Jabiluka uranium mine site in Kakadu National Park on July 3, as thousands blockaded construction. The government and the mining company, Energy Resources of Australia (ERA), are under pressure from a planned visit to the site by a World Heritage Bureau inspection team, actions against uranium shipments at Darwin harbour and demands that construction be stopped because ERA hasn't met agreed conditions. Hundreds more protesters are expected to join the blockade over school and university holidays this month.

"We are here to defend the Mirrar people's right to look after their land and say 'no' to 20 million more tonnes of radioactive waste in their country", said Kate Lecchi, a blockade spokesperson. She called on the government to withdraw support for the mine and refuse to issue an export licence to ERA.

According to Lecchi, 106 protesters were arrested on July 3 as 180 walked on to the mining lease and blockaded the compound, preventing construction work. The protesters were taken to police lockups in the nearby town of Jabiru and in Darwin. There will be a magistrate's hearing on July 6. Those arrested refused a bail condition not to re-enter the mine site.

The action followed attempts by police the day before to put a "protester exclusion zone" around the Jabiluka mineral lease. Three people were arrested that day while peacefully protesting on crown land in front of the mine's gates. The attempt to impose an exclusion zone was an abuse of democratic rights, said Lecchi, who highlighted the desperation of ERA and NT police as the call for people to join the blockade is answered by hundreds of activists.

On June 30, eight people were arrested for locking themselves to heavy work machinery inside the Jabiluka compound. Two suffered head and shoulder injuries from police removal methods. Complaints are also being lodged about police actions during a protest on June 30 at Darwin Harbour, when protesters delayed a shipment of uranium from ERA's Ranger mine headed for Belgium. Seven people were arrested: four people who swam in front of the ship to stop it docking, two who locked themselves to a crane and another who locked on to one of the five trucks containing the uranium.

PictureThe same day, another 31 protesters were arrested at the mine site after being tracked down in the bush by the police force's Territory Response Group with the assistance of an ERA helicopter. A day earlier, 15 people were arrested as they blocked a massive convoy of ERA trucks from entering the lease.

This is an issue of international significance, said Lecchi. "If Jabiluka is mined it will pave the way for the opening up of more than 20 uranium mines in Australia."

At a June 24 Paris meeting of the World Heritage Bureau, international alarm at the threats to the cultural and natural heritage values of Kakadu led to the formation of a high-powered international inspection team.

After visiting Kakadu, the team will recommend actions for protection of the area to the World Heritage Committee, due to meet in Kyoto in December. The visitors will include the director of the World Heritage Centre, experts from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the International Council on Monuments and Sites.

"Traditional owners are overwhelmed by the support expressed by countries all over the world. Our concerns are internationally recognised as justified", said Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation's Jacqui Katona from Paris. "The contempt shown by ERA and the Australian government has clearly alarmed and outraged cultural experts from around the world."

A June 29 Greens' senate motion, passed with Democrat and ALP support, noted the result of the Paris meeting and called on the government to halt construction activity until the December meeting of the World Heritage Bureau. On the same day, there was an admission by the resources minister, Senator Warwick Parer, that the 77 "stringent environmental regulations" under which ERA is allowed to mine Jabiluka are now non-compulsory.

The news that ERA had failed to start negotiations with Aboriginal people for a cultural management plan — one of the 77 conditions to be met before project operations commenced — broke only days before the Paris meeting.

In addition to swelling the blockade, Jabiluka activists around Australia are planning nationally coordinated protests against the mine on Hiroshima Day, August 1 (see pages 26-27 for details). These actions were endorsed at a national conference of anti-Jabiluka mine activists held in Canberra on June 27-28.

Lachlan Malloch reports that most of the 25 conference participants were leaders of the Wilderness Society, which organised the conference, Friends of the Earth, the WA Greens, and the NT Environment Centre. A small number of activists from Jabiluka Action Groups in Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra and Melbourne also attended.

The meeting discussed reports about the blockade, last month's application by the Mirrar people to the World Heritage Bureau to have Kakadu listed as a World Heritage area "in danger" and the campaign to force Westpac to withdraw its investment in the mine. A proposal for a national day of action against Westpac was also endorsed.

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