MAC: Mines and Communities

Australian Aboriginal court victory may force mine closure

Published by MAC on 2008-12-22

One of the world's biggest miners of zinc and lead has been told it can't expand a huge Australian mine, thanks to a successful appeal by Aboriginal traditional owners of the land it tried to sequester.

The company had planned to move from underground to open-pit operations. However, a full bench of the Federal court last week ruled that Australia's environment minister was wrong to grant permission for the diversion of a river so that expansion could take place .

The Aboriginal owners were awarded costs of their legal action, and are now demanding that the diverted river should be "put back".

Xstrata had earlier claimed that, without overground mining, and in light of economic conditions - especially the falling demand for zinc - the mine would have to close.

Landmark ruling backs traditional owners, Xstrata ‘Disappointed'

Court river decision leaves mine up creek


Northern Territory News

18th December 2008

THE world's largest lead-and-zinc mine may close after a shock legal victory by Aboriginal traditional owners yesterday. That would cost more than 300 jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in export earnings and taxes.

The Federal Court decided 2-1 that the Federal Government did not follow proper process when allowing the expansion of McArthur River mine, near Borroloola.

About 12 traditional owners were in court to hear the decision.

They immediately demanded that the 5.5km stretch of the river that has already been diverted as part of converting the mine into an open-cut operation be undone.

Spokesman Harry Lansen, who lodged the legal challenge, wiped away tears as he said: "We want the river put back."

When asked if he was concerned about the threat to jobs and the economy, another senior traditional owner, Jack Green, said: "No. That's their problem.

"It doesn't worry me.

"Aboriginal people have been on that land for a long time and we want everything put back as it was."

Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett now has three choices:

APPEAL to the High Court - this is unlikely because he would have to prove a point of law of national importance;

GO THROUGH the approval process again - this time more carefully; or

NEGOTIATE a new mining deal with traditional owners.

But the Switzerland-based resources company Xstrata has threatened to close the mine if the $110 million expansion does not go ahead.

Commodity stockpiles have forced McArthur River to slow production and the latest legal loss may tempt Xstrata to mothball the mine.

Mr Green said the mine operators had never talked to traditional owners. 'There was never proper process," he said. "They just did it."

He asked Mr Garrett to come to Borroloola.

"We want him to come to us, sit down on the ground and talk to Aboriginal people," Mr Green said.

Xstrata said it would consider the judgment and refused to comment further.

NT acting Mines Minister Chris Burns said it was up to Xstrata and the Federal Government how to react to the court decision.

Landmark ruling backs traditional owners


17th December 2008

Traditional owners are demanding an immediate halt to expansion work at one the world's largest zinc mines following a landmark decision by the Federal Court.

Aborigines from Borroloola, near the Gulf of Carpentaria, are also calling for the McArthur River, which has been diverted by 5.5km, to be restored to its original route.

The full beach of the Federal Court appeared via video link from Sydney to a packed Darwin courtroom on Wednesday.

Proper process 'not followed'

It upheld an appeal that former federal environment minister Ian Campbell did not follow proper process when he approved an application by Swiss mining giant Xstrata.* "The approval granted to construct an open-cut lead and zinc mine at McArthur River is invalid," the judgment said.

The $110 million project to divert the river sought to extend the life of the McArthur River Mine (MRM) by turning it from an underground operation, to open-cut.

But the court ordered the approval be quashed and said traditional owners should be reimbursed for the cost of their appeal.

Walking out of the court into a shower of rain, traditional owner Garry Lansen said he was not interested in compensation.

"All I want is that old river back, back to the same place," he said through tears.

Consultation 'needed'

"We've got to live on that river for a long time, our kids got to live on it," another traditional owner Archie Harvey said.

"They put it there, they can put it back."

Cradling a baby in his arms and surrounded by about 20 of his clan, Jack Green said the federal and Northern Territory governments should have listened to the Yanyuwa people in the first place.

"Instead they listened to the company," he told reporters.

"They went and changed to open pit, they never talked to us properly, they just went and done it."

Mr Green said locals from the region were happy to talk to MRM about the future of the mine, following recent reports it has been hit hard by the economic crisis.

Prices plunge

MRM sacked more than 200 workers earlier this month after a drop in demand from the world's zinc smelters pushed prices down 60 per cent.

"Personally mate, it doesn't worry me," Mr Green said.

"That's their problems. The Aboriginal people been on that land for a long time and we're just happy if everything is put back into place."

It is not the first time elders from the region have taken legal proceedings over the expansion of the mine. The Supreme Court in Darwin ruled in their favour in a separate case against the Northern Territory government last year after it found the territory's mines minister had relied on an invalid process.

But the territory government passed legislation to ensure the project's survival, prompting three of its own indigenous MPs to cross the floor.

In the wake of Wednesday's court decision, Xstrata must now now halt work on the diversion, Northern Land Council chief executive Kim Hill said.

He also called on federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett to conduct an independent environmental assessment of the project.

"The traditional owners have been asking for this for 15 years and now is the time for MRM to fix the damage," he said.

Mr Hill said the ruling endorsed the view that there had been a lack of due process and transparency by MRM and Mr Campbell.

* MAC editorial note: As we continue to point out, Xstrata is actually a UK-Swiss company, registered on the London stock exchange.

Xstrata 'Disappointed' By McArthur River Decision

By Madelene Pearson and Gemma Daley


17 December 2008 -- Xstrata Plc., Europe's largest zinc producer, said it's disappointed by an Australian court decision to uphold an appeal against expansion work at its McArthur River zinc mine in the Northern Territory.

The Federal Court today upheld an appeal by traditional landowners against the expansion, according to court documents e- mailed to Bloomberg News.

Xstrata, which won initial approval for the expansion in 2006 after meeting environmental conditions, wants to convert the underground mine at McArthur River to an open pit operation to expand its working life by 20 years. The Zug, Switzerland-based this month said it would cut production by 20 percent at the mine because of weakening demand.

"There has always been environmental concerns at the mine," said Mark Pervan, a senior commodity strategist at Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. in Melbourne. "In some ways this could be good thing for Xstrata as it will make a decision to scale back operations easier."

Prices for zinc, used to galvanize steel, have fallen 53 percent this year.

"The court found in favor of the appellants, who originally brought the action against the process followed by the Commonwealth government," Xstrata said today in a statement sent by e-mail. The company will "carefully consider the judgment over the coming days."

Aborígenes ganan un juicio contra la expansión de una mina en su territorio

Terra Actualidad - EFE

17 de diciembre, 2008

Un grupo de aborígenes de la región septentrional de Australia ganó hoy el juicio contra la ampliación de una mina de zinc propiedad de la suiza Xstrata en su territorio, informó la agencia australiana de noticias AAP.

El Tribunal Federal de Australia falló a favor de una apelación presentada por los aborígenes Yanyuwa de Borroloola (Territorio del Norte) contra el Gobierno australiano por aprobar hace años el crecimiento del yacimiento del río McArthur, situado en las inmediaciones del Golfo de Carpentaria.

El Consejo de las Tierras del Norte, órgano representativo de los aborígenes en la región, ha exigido a Xstrata que repare los daños de la expansión de la mina y devuelva el río, desviado a lo largo de unos seis kilómetros, a su antiguo cauce. Los dueños ancestrales del lugar pidieron también a la minera que recupere el río para uso de los niños de la comunidad aborigen. 'Necesitamos que nos devuelvan el río. No sabemos cómo, ellos lo cambiaron de sitio y ahora tienen que devolverlo a su lugar', manifestó Archie Harvey, uno de los ancianos Yanyuwa, a través de la radio ABC.

El Tribunal Federal decidió en agosto de 2008 que el proceso seguido por el Gobierno de Howard para aprobar el proyecto era válido. Sin embargo, el Consejo de las Tierras del Norte presentó una apelación contra Ian Campbell, ex ministro de Medioambiente del Gobierno de John Howard, y hoy el mismo tribunal le ha dado la razón.

Un grupo de indígenas Yanyuwa estuvo presente en la vista de hoy y estallaron en aplausos y sollozos al escuchar la decisión judicial.

El Tribunal Supremo de Darwin ya falló a favor de los Yanyuwa en el caso contra el entonces responsable regional de la minería, Chris Natt, el año pasado. El Supremo dictaminó que el Gobierno del Territorio del Norte no siguió los trámites adecuados e ignoró los reglamentos de protección del medioambiente, al aprobar en octubre de 2006 el plan para hacer de la mina del río McArthur una explotación abierta. El proyecto de la empresa McArthur River Mining (MRM), subsidiaria de Xstrata, estaba valorado en unos 110 millones de dólares australianos (unos 75 millones de dólares estadounidenses al cambio de hoy).

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