Uranium threat to pristine sanctuary

February 12, 2011
About 60 people protested in Adelaide against the South Australian government’s renewal of a uranium mining licence in the pri

It isn’t often that socialists, Greens, Liberals and NGOs agree on an issue. But that is the case regarding uranium exploration in the Arkaroola region in the Flinders Ranges, 700 kilometres north of Adelaide.

Marathon Resources announced on February 7 that the South Australian Labor government had renewed the company's mining licence in Arkaroola.

The Arkaroola area is a unique environment, unlike anywhere else on Earth. It has over 160 species of birds, is home to species of fauna found nowhere else in the world and is a sanctuary for the endangered yellow-footed rock wallaby.

In geological terms the area is no less significant. It is listed on the Register of the National Estate.

The Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary is a recognised sanctuary under the South Australian National Parks and Wildlife Act and is an “Environmental Class A Zone” under the Development Act.

The famous explorer Douglas Mawson once described the area as “one of the great open-air museums of geological history”.

Arkaroola also has significance as part of the traditional lands of the Adnyamathanha people.

Given Arkaroola’s great value as an area of rich biodiversity and geological history, it would be foolish to allow any company access to this area to mine uranium.

However, this is exactly what the Rann Labor government has allowed.

The decision is deeply unpopular among South Australians. Eighty-two percent of the 450 submissions to the government’s 2009 “Seeking a Balance” report opposed any form of mining in the Arkaroola region.

Marathon Resources has a horrendous environment track record in the region.

In 2008, the company had its licence suspended after it was found dumping 22,800 bags of radioactive waste in the sanctuary. It was also caught stealing fluorite from a protected geological site.

Despite this, the state government has granted this same company a new exploration permit.

How can a company that obviously has no regard for the environment be allowed an exploration permit in the same area where it has previously been found dumping waste?

In the capitalist system, where profit margins override environmental concerns, such a move is not a great surprise.

The Labor Party may talk about taking action on climate change and protecting the environment, but when it comes to choosing between the environment and corporate profits, Labor knows where its interests lie.

As a party of big business, Labor chooses corporate interests over the will of the people.

On the other hand, the Liberal Party has said it is against the decision and wants to “amend the Development Act 1993 in this session of Parliament”.

Given that the Liberal party is even more in the hands of corporate interests than Labor, it is doubtful that its position is sincere. It is more likely that the Liberals are playing politics to embarrass the Labor party.

The major parties pander to the mining companies. But the ordinary people of South Australia must unite in broad action to protect Arkaroola.

The campaign to stop the mining has great potential as the Wilderness Society, the Greens, the Socialist Alliance and others are organising to protect the region.

About 60 people gathered at parliament house on February 4 for a protest organised by The Wilderness Society, which said it was in national and state interests to protect Arkaroola.

This is not just about protecting one sanctuary and its biodiversity. What happens to Arkaroola will have an impact on the wider debate about mining, climate change and the environment.

If people fail to act and hold the government accountable, then not only will the pristine Arkaroola wilderness be polluted, but supporters of uranium mining will win a big victory.

This will move Australia one step closer towards nuclear energy, when we must instead take the steps towards renewable energy for a safe climate future.

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