MAC: Mines and Communities

Australian minister spills "midnight oil" on Aboriginal custodians

Published by MAC on 2009-01-26

Through the 1980s, Peter Garrett and his band, Midnight Oil, were widely regarded as in the vanguard of recognition of Australian Aboriginal land rights and environmental protection.

But no longer.

As Australian Federal government Environment Minister, Garrett has now said he will permit expansion of UK-Swiss company, Xstrata's, McArthur River lead- zinc mine, even though last month the government's own Federal Court ruled it invalid. See:

'Sell out' Garrett to approve McArthur River Mine

ABC News

22nd January 2009

Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett says he intends to approve the McArthur River Mine expansion.

Mining for new ore at the mine ground to a halt five weeks ago when the Federal Court ruled the mine's expansion and the 5.5km diversion of the McArthur River around the site was invalid.

Mr Garrett's announcement comes just days after Xstrata said it would have to close the McArthur River Mine on Australia Day, with the loss of 300 jobs, because it was not allowed to mine.

Mr Garrett says his decision to approve the extension of the mine takes into account the ongoing protection of the region's freshwater sawfish and migratory birds.

He says the merits of the original decision to expand were never wrong, but proper approval procedures weren't followed by the former environment minister.

Traditional owners, the mine and Commonwealth ministers have until February 6 to comment on the Minister's proposed decision.

The NT Planning Minister Delia Lawrie says she's confident the Federal Environment Minister didn't rush the decision to approve the McArthur River Mine.

"He's gone out to Borroloola and spoken to traditional owners, the Land Council and went out to the mine site, so he's obviously taken the thorough approach, had a look at all the documentation before him and come down the proposal decision today."

The CLP has also welcomed the decision.

'Selling Aboriginal people out'

Borroloola resident Steve Johnson says the local community isn't surprised by announcement.

"Peter Garrett has proved over and over again, especially in recent years, that his stance as friend to Aboriginal people around the country only extends as far as it gives him credentials.

"I mean, when it comes to the bottom line, he's basically selling people out.
"There are a couple of dissenting voices in Borroloola who'd like to see the mine continue operations [but] the vast majority of people are opposed to it as far as I can glean."

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