MAC: Mines and Communities

Australia Update

Published by MAC on 2006-09-20

Australia Update

20th September 2006

Two urgent pleas have come from Aboriginal custodians in Australia. The Yanyuwa people want to prevent UK-Swiss Xstrata from diverting a pristine river in order to mine its bed for base metals.

The Jidi Jidi urge that Gleneagle Gold and Sandfire Resources be stopped from illegally exploring and drilling their land.

Readers are urged to support their demands.

The Australian government's carbon emissions trading scheme is, says a correspondent for Australia's Green Left weekly, primarily a means to boost profits for the world's single biggest exporter of the "black stuff"


[From Mineral Policy Centre, Australia, September 18 2006]

The Yanyuwa people in the remote Gulf of Carpentaria in Australia are calling for help. Having endured 29 years of struggles to get their island homes back, they now are threatened with having their river taken away.


UK-Swiss Mining Giant, Xstrata is proposing to divert over five kilometers of the MacArthur River in the Northern Territory of Australia to enable them to operate an open cut mine in the river bed.

The river and the river mouth are in the Gulf of Carpentaria, remote and wild country that is homeland of Aboriginal peoples who maintain strong traditional connections to their country and who rely upon the river and the adjoining coast for livelihood and food.

The communities in the coastal zone have already noticed sickness in dugongs and turtles downstream of the mining operation, and fear that these problems will greatly increase. The project to mine in the river was initially rejected by the Northern Territory government's environment minister, but now is set to get the go ahead from the government to proceed.

Aboriginal Concern over the Proposal: The river and adjoining coastal environment is a major source of food for local Aboriginal people, who maintain strong traditional links to their region and the river, which holds economic, cultural and spiritual significance for various Aboriginal nations. Yanyuwa Traditional Owner, Stephen Johnston whose country is downstream of the mine in the coastal area has called for support to help stop the proposal. He wrote to the Enivornment Centre of the Northern Territory: "The Traditional Owners of the Sir Edward Pellew Islands and the MacArthur River seek your support on the most urgent of matters. I am a Yanyuwa Traditional Owner. My people have fought relentlessly for nearly 3 decades for the return of their island country in the Sir Edward Pellew Group. Just weeks before this landmark event (Xstrata) MacArthur River Mining wants to contaminate our river and our islands with heavy metals and silt."

The Yanyuwa people are strongly opposed to the mine. They fear flooding could result in zinc and cadmium polluting waterways and seagrass beds, as well as affecting turtle and dugong populations. They view the health of their environment as a vital basis for a sustainable basis for the future, with plans for fishing and tourism enterprises. Many of the area's traditional owners feel there has been too little consultation about the proposal. In 2003, Harry Lansen, a senior traditional owner for the mine site opposed the expansion on ABC television's Stateline program saying "It is no good. I will be sick if they cut the place, because my spirit is there. All my songs are across the river. I don't want to see that thing happen in the McArthur River."

Environmental Significance: Long-term impacts on the McArthur River will be associated with the re-routing of the river and construction of artificial watercourses. The McArthur River has high biodiversity, recreation and cultural values. The river contains important species including listed threatened species, the Freshwater Sawfish (Pristis Microdon), and listed migratory species known to inhabit the river. The river connects to internationally significant coastal and marine environment and endangered dugong and turtle species. The Borroloola and the Sir Edward Pellow Islands region supports sea turtles and one of the most important dugong populations in the world. The Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act lists dugongs as a species of national environmental significance and the International Conservation Union (IUCN) lists them as a vulnerable species.

Subsidies and Economics: The existing mine operated by Xstrata has paid no royalties whatsoever to the Northern Territory government, despite operating for 10 years. It has also been exposed that the mine has a 5million dollar energy subsidy provided by the government. Even in a short term economic analysis the benefits of this project are marginal at best.

The Project has already been rejected by the Government Environment Minister:

The proposal to divert the river and open cut mine has already been advised against by the Northern Territories Environmental Protection Agency and was rejected by Northern Territory Environment Minister Marion Scrymgour in February 2006 because of major environmental concerns. The Mines Minister Kon Vatskalis invited the company to come back with a new proposal, however the fatal flaws that make the project unacceptable still exist, including:

• The diverting of the McArthur River along a 5.5km stretch

• A massive open cut mine pit in the bed of the river:1.5km long, 750m wide and 220m deep.

• Leaving the open pit as a void in the river when the mine closes in 25 years time.

• Inadequate consultation with Aboriginal people living downstream of the mine.

For more information see


Write a letter to Ms Clare Martin, the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory of Australia asking her to protect the Mac:Arthur River and not to allow Xstrata to mine it.

You can email Chief Minister Martin at


Dear Chief Minister Martin,

We write humbly to you to express our concern about the possible approval of the McArthur River Mine open cut project, and to ask you to prevent this project from proceeding with what remain fatal flaws in its design.

There were many sound scientific reasons why the EPA Program and the Minister for Environment rejected this proposal back in February including:

- inadequate baseline and monitoring studies conducted by the company thus far.

- strong concerns about the stability of the proposed diversion channels for both the McArthur River and Barney Creek, particularly concerns about erosion and the difficulties of revegetating the new channel.

- potential impacts on the endangered Freshwater sawfish and migratory bird species such as the White-browed robin.

- concerns about the ongoing leakage of contaminants into surrounding waterways from the tailings dam and waste rock dump.

- the long-term risk posed by the mine when mining ends 25 years from now.

The massive open pit will be left as a void in the middle of the current river channel, which is itself located on a floodplain. The fatal problems identified in earlier reports and submissions that recommended against the original mine plan HAVE NOT CHANGED TO ANY SIGNIFICANT DEGREE in the amended proposal!

The mining company has also acknowledged that its consultation process with Aboriginal Traditional Owners living downstream from the mine and in the Sir Edward Pellew Islands has been inadequate. Many Aboriginal people in the Borroloola area including the Traditional Owner of the MacArthur River remain opposed to the open cut project.

The Northern Territory people stand little to gain from this development, having received no royalties to date for the existing operation by Xstrata.

The risks of the project impacting important environmental values and affecting the ability of local Aboriginal communities to develop sustainable economies are of great concern.

We urge you not to give favour to short term economic considerations, which are themselves marginal over the long term wellbeing of the environment and the people who rely on it for survival.

For all of these reasons, I strongly urge the NT Government to not allow Xstrata to proceed with the open cut project.

There is far too much at stake for this vital river and marine environment and for the communities that rely on it.

Thank you for your consideration,

Yours Sincerely,


Country continues to be destroyed without any consultation with its Traditional Owners.

European Network for Indigenous Australian Rights | Action

20th September 2006

Jidi Jidi Aboriginal Corporation members, particularly Elders with the chief duty to protect their Ancestors Country and sacred sites from harm, are getting very upset at this destruction of their lands and the Western Australia (WA) State Government will do nothing to help them.

Jidi Jidi Aboriginal Corporation, representing the Nharnuwangga Wajarri Ngarlawangga People's Native Title, is now aware, that with the knowledge and direct support of the State, various explorers are doing exploration and mining activities, including high impact work such as drilling, without having made the required heritage agreement. The heritage agreement allows for sacred sites to be avoided and so not harmed by such activities.

Two companies that have not signed heritage agreements with the Jidi Jidi Aboriginal Corporation are Gleneagle Gold and Sandfire Resources. Jidi Jidi Aboriginal Corporation have now had to ask Western Australian State Government environmental regulators to get the companies to stop work and make the heritage agreement. This is consistent with the regulators' policies and procedures, but Jidi Jidi Aboriginal Corporation is worried that the usual bias against, and disinterest in, any issues raised by Indigenous people will see them making excuses for these two companies.

Support Jidi Jidi Aboriginal Corporation to have heritage agreements signed by writing to or emailing Gleneagle Gold and Sandfire Resources. For further information please feel free to contact the Jidi Jidi Aboriginal Corporation, by emailing Mr Marcus Holmes:


Jidi Jidi Aboriginal Corporation is created by the Native Title Act 1993, to manage and be trustee of the Native Title of the Nharnuwangga Wajarri Ngarlawangga People in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The Nharnuwangga Wajarri Ngarlawangga People were the first group of native title holders in Western Australia to successfully prove their native title to their Country.


Please support the Jidi Jidi Aboriginal Corporation to secure the signing of heritage agreements with Gleneagle Gold and Sandfire Resources. You can accomplish this by writing to or emailing Gleneagle Gold and Sandfire Resources on the contact details below. Please send a copy to: Marcus Holmes when sending your action to Gleneagle Gold or Sandfire Resources. Remember to include your postal addresses.

Managing Director,
Gleneagle Gold
1 Ventnor Avenue,
West Perth,
Western Australia, 6005
Telephone: +61 8 9476 4646
Facsimile: +61 8 9476 4600

Dear Sir,

HERITAGE AGREEMENT WITH JIDI JIDI ABORIGINAL CORPORATION We have been informed by Jidi Jidi Aboriginal Corporation that your company is carrying out exploration activity on their members' Native Title Country without having first made a protective heritage agreement with Jidi Jidi Aboriginal Corporation.

We understand that you have been asked many times to do so, and that the requirement to make such an agreement is actually a binding condition written onto your tenements.

This breach by your company is causing great harm and distress to the Jidi Jidi Aboriginal Corporation. members, particularly the Elders. We/I request that your company enters into a heritage agreement with Jidi Jidi Aboriginal Corporation and you do the right thing on their Country. Yours faithfully,


Managing Director,
Sandfire Resources
1 Ventnor Avenue,
West Perth,
Western Australia, 6005
Telephone: +61 8 9226 5833
Facsimile: +61 8 9226 5844

Dear Sir,

HERITAGE AGREEMENT WITH JIDI JIDI ABORIGINAL CORPORATION We have been informed by Jidi Jidi Aboriginal Corporation that your company is carrying out exploration activity on their members' Native Title Country without having first made a protective heritage agreement with Jidi Jidi Aboriginal Corporation.

We understand that you have been asked many times to do so, and that the requirement to make such an agreement is actually a binding condition written onto your tenements.

This breach by your company is causing great harm and distress to the Jidi Jidi Aboriginal Corporation. members, particularly the Elders.

We/I request that your company enters into a heritage agreement with Jidi Jidi Aboriginal Corporation and you do the right thing on their Country. Yours faithfully,

Carbon Trading Scheme: A Sop To King Coal

By Zoe Kenny, Green Left Weekly

21st September 2006

In his documentary film "An Inconvenient Truth", former US vice-president Al Gore describes global warming as the greatest crisis humanity has ever faced. Australia is singled out twice in the film, along with the US, for not joining most of the rest of the world on climate change, especially the Howard government’s refusal to ratify the UN’s Kyoto Protocol.

The Kyoto Protocol includes a “cap and trade” system that imposes national caps on the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions but seeks to promote reductions of emissions through the capitalist market by creating “carbon-trading” schemes.

On August 16, NSW Premier Morris Iemma, South Australian Premier Mike Rann and Victorian deputy premier John Thwaites launched a discussion paper on the possibility of establishing a national CO2 emissions trading scheme that would aim to cut Australia's CO2 emissions by 60% by mid-century.

While the scheme is an attempt to differentiate these Labor state governments from the federal Coalition government's inaction on climate change, it is based on a fundamentally flawed approach which purportedly relies on “the market” to solve the problem of greenhouse gas emissions but which, in fact, continues in the Liberal-Labor tradition of government support for coal-fired electricity generation.

The scheme would entail the creation of a government body that would have a mandate to set up CO2 emission “caps” for a particular period, initially only covering electricity generation plants, and then producing permits to the value of the cap. The permits would then be allocated to the plants covered by the scheme, with the permits equalling less CO2 emissions than the plants are projected to emit. There would be penalties for plants that emit more CO2 than they are allotted.

The logic of the scheme is that high-emitting plants would have to out-bid each other for the excess permits that low-emitting plants can sell. The proposed effect would be that low-emitting plants, which would have invested in expensive technology to reduce their emissions, would make enough money from the sale of their permits to offset their investments. This would supposedly make low-emitting plants more “competitive” with high-emitting plants.

It was also claimed in the discussion paper that if the cost of paying for extra permits became prohibitive then high-emitting plants would have to invest in technology in order to keep costs down.

The scheme has numerous loopholes. Firstly, it assumes that the participating governments will set an emissions cap that mandates massive decreases in CO2 emissions. Only then would the scarcity of permits increase, pushing up their price and impacting on the bottom line of high-emitting plants.

In one of the first major tests of carbon trading, the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) which began on January 1, 2005, was labelled a “major disappointment” in an April 2006 assessment by the Climate Action Network-Europe, the network of major environmental groups in the EU, as a result of member governments setting lax national emission targets.

According to a May 15, 2005, CAN-Europe press release, EU member states condemned Phase 1 of the scheme to failure from the beginning by being too generous in their allocation of permits so that the “actual emissions of installations covered by the ETS in 2005 were several million tonnes below the granted permits”.

As a result, by May 2006 the market price of permits had dropped to 10 euros per tonne, down from 30 euros per tonne in April.

CAN-Europe criticised the “lack of transparency in most member states processes” to determine their national emission caps, highlighting the vulnerability of carbon-trading schemes to manipulation by governments acting in the interests of the big energy corporations.

On the other hand, a stringent national emissions cap can be undermined by a lack of capacity to enforce the regulations or by penalties that are easily absorbed by corporations that make billions of dollars of profits.

Underlying the three Labor governments’ discussion paper is a commitment to coal-fired electricity generation far into the future. It states that coal “is expected to be the dominant source of fuel till 2030". In fact, one of the key aims of establishing a carbon-trading scheme is to “reduce uncertainty” for capitalists who would otherwise be keen to invest in energy production but are unsure how governments’ future climate change policy will impact on their profit margins.

The continued reliance on coal as the main means of electricity production will condemn Australia to continued high levels of CO2 emissions. While the coal-mining companies, and federal and state governments are investing great hopes in “clean-coal technology” as a means to keep the coal industry viable, the technology is far from being proven, and will be expensive and risky.

The main hope for this technology is carbon geosequestration. This involves capturing CO2 gas emissions before they enter the atmosphere, converting them into a liquidm and then storing them in deep underground cavities.

Currently, there is one such project being piloted in Australia — the Gorgon project, run by Chevron-Texaco (Caltex) on Barrow Island, off the coast of Western Australia. It is projected to be able to store 25 million tonnes of CO2.

However, there is widespread agreement, even among “clean-coal” advocates, that the technology is still in an early stage of research and will need vast amounts of government and private investment to even ascertain if it is viable.

The August 28 ABC TV Four Corners program “What Price Global Warming” interviewed Dr John Wright, director of the CSIRO's Newcastle-based energy research institute Energy Transformed, which hopes to build a $100 million carbon capture and storage pilot plant.

Wright said: “If that demonstration plant is successful, then I would imagine it would take probably about another five years or so before we could demonstrate that at a commercial size. So 10 years would be about the minimum” before such a technology could be tested as being viable.

He also estimated that the technology, if it was viable, would double the cost of coal-fired electricity production — a cost that would almost certainly be passed on to ordinary consumers.

A September 23, 2004, ABC Science Online report, “Greenhouse Gas Grave”, highlighted other difficulties and expenses associated with clean-coal technology. One was that the technology needed to capture the CO2 emissions from any coal-fired power plant could only be fitted to new power plants, which would make it unviable for the 24 coal-fired power plants currently operating in Australia. These stations produce 50% of Australia’s annual output of 570 billion tonnes of CO2.

To store the captured CO2 emissions, underground caverns would have to be found near the power plants. These CO2 storage sites would have to be constantly monitored for slow leaks or seismic activity leading to major eruptions into the atmosphere. If either were to occur, the whole process would have been a waste of effort.

Overall, the three Labor states’ proposal for a national emissions scheme holds no vision for tackling the huge problem of Australia's CO2 emissions, which are the highest in the world on a per capita basis. The three Labor governments have shown themselves to be as beholden as the Howard government is to the coal-mining companies, which earned $22 billion in 2005,.

Instead of challenging the Howard government's protection of the profits of the coal-mining companies, the largest of which is BHP Billiton, by calling for massive government investment into research and development of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power and then mandating that these replace coal, the three Labor governments have simply fallen in behind the Howard government’s subservience to King Coal.

The bankruptcy of relying on big business and the capitalist market to solve the global warming crisis is highlighted further by the vast potential of renewable energy. A July 17 Canberra Times article quoted from a “confidential” unpublished CSIRO report that makes the claim that solar-thermal technology is so advanced that a 35 square kilometre installation in the Australian desert “could produce Australia's entire current power demand” and would be “cheap or cheaper than the cheapest wind-power technology”.

Instead government funding for renewable energy research and development is falling. According to a April 20 ABC Science Online report, there is not a single cooperative research centre for renewable energy in Australia, while there are three centres for coal and other fossil-fuel research. Whatever funding is available, for example through the federal government's $500 million Low Emissions Technology Demonstration Fund, is subject to competition from clean-coal technology research, which already receives state government and corporate funding.

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