MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Owners speak out about Kakadu's uranium

Published by MAC on 2006-03-06

Owners speak out about Kakadu's uranium

by Lindsay Murdoch

6th March 2006

The Howard Government has used a native title claim to pressure Aboriginal owners to approve mining of the massive Jabiluka uranium deposit in Kakadu National Park, it was claimed yesterday.

The traditional Mirarr owners said the Government had indicated they would be given ownership of Jabiru, a mining town in Kakadu, if they reversed their opposition to mining Jabiluka. At today's soaring prices, the site - the world's richest undeveloped uranium deposit - is worth more than $10 billion

"Its outrageous. We are sick and tired of having the mining of Jabiluka and the future of Jabiru mentioned in the same breath," said Andy Ralph, the chief executive of the Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation, which represents the Mirarr people.

The Mirarr, who have the right to veto mining at Jabiluka, have a native title claim over Jabiru, a town of about 1,100 that services the Ranger uranium mine in the park.

Greg Hunt, a Victorian Liberal MP with federal ministerial responsibility for Kakadu, said last night that Jabiluka's future was "a matter for the Mirarr people". "There is no question that in policy and in law they have binding control over what occurs at Jabiluka and that will not change," Mr Hunt said.

Mr Ralph told The Age he had decided to publicly reveal the attempt by several federal ministers to link Jabiru with Jabiluka because the Mirarr people are coming under increasing pressure over Jabiluka. "The pressure to mine Jabiluka will become enormous in the years to come," he said. "The time has come to speak out about some of the pressures that are being applied to the Mirarr people."

Mr Ralph said the federal ministers had " implied" over a number of years to Mirarr representatives that "we will give you Jabiru, just give us Jabiluka".

The Mirarr people, led by Yvonne Margarula, have strongly opposed mining of Jabiluka, telling a parliamentary inquiry last year that they were worried about the impact of any future mining on their land. "My mob continue to respectfully say 'no thanks', we don't want mining at Jabiluka and I can't see it happening," Mr Ralph said.

Late last year the Howard Government declared the Northern Territory open for expanded uranium mining, saying companies could exploit more than $12 billion of known deposits, including Jabiluka, as long as they won the support of traditional owners and met environmental concerns.

The NT Labor Government, which regulates mines in the Territory, has effectively handed the responsibility for new uranium mines to Canberra.

Rio-Tinto-owned Energy Resources Australia Limited has not given up hope of mining Jabiluka, despite abandoning work at the site a decade ago after anti-mine protesters had blockaded it. The company's Ranger mine is scheduled to cease operation in 2014, putting the future of Jabiru in doubt.

Mr Ralph said the Mirarr want the 13-square-kilometre township area returned to Aboriginal ownership. He said that when Ranger closes, the town would lose most of its population and would become a small, tourism-oriented settlement.

"They are saying the town will go from having 1,100 to 300," he said. "They are saying instead of having two doctors we will have none. Instead of having 15 school teachers we will have five. It's a threat."

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