Thursday, September 03, 2015

What ever happened to the McArthur River?

Back in 2006 the people of Borroloola and concerned Northern Territorians rallied against a proposed expansion to the McArthur River Mine (MRM).
The expansion involved turning what was an underground mine into a full open cut mine and diverting a section of a large Tropical River for kilometers through a dozed channel to avoid flooding of the mine (and theoretically to prevent contamination of the River)

Locals and environment advocates fought a hard battle with the mining company (conglomerate) Xstrata Queensland Limited. (Mount Isa Mines Ltd) , who had already proven to be incapable of preventing leakage of contaminants from the existing mine.
Despite strong evidence against the miner's capacity to protect the natural resources of the area the expansion was approved by the Minister for Mines and Energy.

The decision was challenged in the supreme court case of: Lansen and Ors v Northern Territory Minister for Mines and Energy [2007] NTSC 28.
The presiding judge Justice Angel ruled that approval should not have been given by the Minister. Basically he found that a mine classified as 'underground' could not simply be changed to an open cut mine with a nod and a wink by the Minister for Mining. See the: Mining Management Act 1990 (NT).

So then things got really dirty. The NT Government dived in to defend the mining company. They actually rewrote the law and applied it retrospectively to overturn the Supreme Court ruling. They adjusted the McArthur River Project Agreement Ratification Act 1992 (NT) pretty much giving MRM management permission to do whatever they want with the land, the river and the future of the people in the region. (read more HERE)

The mine went ahead and the river was diverted.

Protest rally September 2006
Environmentalists were pissed off, the people of Borroloola were mortified and the average Territorian didn't seem to appreciate just how much they had lost. For a Government to amend a law retrospectively in order to get what they want and ignore the health and cultural concerns of citizens, disregard environmental protection safeguards and show such contempt for the laws of the land was an insult to all Territorians but we barely heard a murmur from the average citizen... Even though this affected one of the best fishing spots in the NT. Maybe they thought it was only a Blackfella problem?

So here we are 8 [9] years later and the river is showing serious signs of contamination, people are afraid to eat fish from the river or surrounding coastal water but there has been no advice from the Department of health about the health risks connected to the river!
What's changed?
  • The environment is far more polluted than it was 9 years ago.
  • The name of the company is Glencore 

Today once again representatives from the Borroloola community returned to Parliament House to visit the Minister for the Environment. They brought a petition with 3,600 signatures on it calling for the closure of the mine and rehabilitation of their land. (ABC report HERE)

Environment Centre NT workers were also there to support the call for justice and to highlight the multiple failures at the mine and Government departments in ensuring the adherence to NT and Australian Environmental laws. The level of contamination poses very serious health risks to residents of Borroloola and surrounding communities. There could be serious consequences for not notifying people of the risk to health.

The McArther River Mine should be an example to every Territorian that our Government is prepared to stomp the lives of it's own people into the dirt rather than miss an opportunity to support extraction resource companies from making a packet at our expense!

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