Garrett overturns mining ban

January 24, 2009

Federal environment minister Peter Garrett says he will grant resource giant Xstrata permission to expand its zinc mine in the Northern Territory. The move will mean a six kilometre diversion of the McArthur River, causing significant environmental impacts and the violation of Aboriginal sacred sites.

The open-cut mine's planned expansion was declared invalid by the federal court and mining ceased on December 17 last year. The court declared the $110 million development proposal had been wrongly approved by authorities.

Garrett, supposedly in the face of Xstrata's threat to lay off 300 workers by the end of the month, has now announced that he will give the go-ahead "with conditions".

Garrett claims he is limited to considering impacts on migratory birds and fish, but is "moving on this matter as quickly as possible". However, no concern has been shown for the traditional owners and the surrounding communities of the McArthur River.

"The message is clear", said Justin McCaul from the Australian Conservation Foundation. "If you override the wishes of traditional owners and engage in environmentally high-impact mining, you will be rewarded with fast-tracked federal approval", he told the January 23 Sydney Morning Herald.

The Northern Lands Council (NLC) led the legal challenge against the rapacious expansion. The NLC argued that while the McArthur mine was among the first to open after the 1992 Mabo decision, the company has never paid compensation or negotiated an agreement with the traditional owners.

Xstrata has been accused of denying traditional owners of Gurdanji, Mara, Garawa and Yanyuwa country access to numerous sacred sites, the NLC said.

In a 2006 press statement announcing the legal challenge, former NLC chief executive Norman Fry stated: "Xstrata wants to trample on Aboriginal rights and culture by permanently diverting a major river and interfering with major rainbow serpent sites — without negotiating with traditional owners and without explaining to the public why it is safe to locate tailings on a flood plain."

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