MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Aborigines win veto on Kakadu uranium mining

Published by MAC on 2005-02-25

Aborigines win veto on Kakadu uranium mining

February 25, 2005

AAP

Uranium miner Energy Resources of Australia will be allowed to further explore the valuable Jabiluka lease in Kakadu, but traditional Aboriginal landowners have the right to veto any future mining.

A historic deal between ERA and traditional Aboriginal landowners was finally signed off today, three years after it was originally mooted.

Stakeholders today said the deal heralded a new era of "healthy dialogue" between the mining company and Aborigines, after years of bitterness and acrimony.

ERA has pledged not to carry out any mining activity on the controversial Jabiluka Mineral Lease, in the Northern Territory, without the written consent of the traditional owners, the Mirarr people.

The company will have the chance to ask the traditional owners to consider a proposal for the Jabiluka mine every four years, beginning in the middle of next year.

"This is the end of a very long period of acrimony and conflict over the project that's known as Jabiluka," ERA chief executive Harry Kenyon-Slaney said. "We will not bulldoze through mining projects on other people's land."

Thousands of protesters rallied around Australia against the mine in the 1990s, with hundreds arrested during protracted demonstrations.

Uranium ore extracted has never been processed and sat in a stockpile at the site until late 2003 when it was returned inside the mine as part of this deal.

The Jabiluka mine decline was backfilled and the site cleaned up, and ERA's financial obligations to traditional owners were waived under the agreement.

However, with skyrocketing world uranium prices ERA remains hopeful the new friendlier communication between the two parties will eventually lead to the realisation of the Jabiluka resource.

Under the deal it will be allowed to explore the lease after giving traditional owners notice.

"We have the opportunity to explore elsewhere on the lease subject to granting the traditional owners notice," Mr Kenyon-Slaney said.

"At some point in the future we would like to do that, (but) we have no immediate plans."

There has been no further exploration of the prospective lease since 1982. He remained hopeful the Mirarr would be more open to allowing mining at Jabiluka in the future, perhaps when ERA's 25-year-old nearby Ranger mine and mill cease operation in 2011.

ERA has paid more than $207 million in royalties to traditional owners and governments for Aboriginal projects in Ranger's 25-year history.

"I don't know whether Jabiluka will go ahead in the future, it's ultimately up to the traditional owners to decide now," Mr Kenyon-Slaney said.

"But I feel that sometimes you have to take a step backwards before you take a couple of steps forward."

The Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, which represents the Mirarr, said the deal was the "sweetest victory of all" in the long-running Jabiluka dispute.

"This heralds a new era of cooperation between mining companies and traditional owners right around the world in the way they do business on people's country," Gundjeihmi chief executive Andy Ralph said.

"The current view is that Jabiluka will not happen."

"There are a range of cultural and environmental concerns that have been a problem for the Mirarr for a number of years."

He said the Mirarr had been working on business development ahead of the anticipated wind-up of the Ranger mine in 2011.

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