Leader of mine expansion fight farewelled

"It was the lowest form of disrespect against Indigenous people in this country when a great win had occurred for a senior traditional elder who'd just passed away and had not even been buried and I was devastated.

About 800 people turned out in Borroloola, in the Northern Territory, yesterday for the funeral of one of the traditional owners who led the fight against the expansion of the McArthur River Mine.

The 43-year-old was the brother of Territory MLA Barbara McCarthy.

He died days before the traditional owners won their Supreme Court challenge to the mine's expansion.

Legislation overriding the decision was rammed through Territory Parliament on Thursday night despite three Indigenous Labor members crossing the floor to vote against the Bill.

Ms McCarthy has told the 7.30 Report she crossed the floor because she was insulted her Government did not wait until after her brother's funeral to overturn his court victory.

"It was an absolute disgrace," she said.

"It was the lowest form of disrespect against Indigenous people in this country when a great win had occurred for a senior traditional elder who'd just passed away and had not even been buried and I was devastated.

"The first thing that people felt was a great sense of hurt, a great sense of injustice, insult and felt that even before this man had been buried, they'd been kicked again and that was their first feelings that came through."


McArthur River mine court ruling sidestepped

The Northern Territory Government is ramming through legislation to override a court decision preventing a controversial mine expansion from going ahead.

Traditional owners from the Borroloola region on the Gulf of Carpentaria had successfully challenged Xstrata's plans to transform the mine from an underground to open-cut mine.

Chief Minister Clare Martin says the machines at the McArthur River Mine will fire up again tomorrow, as soon as the urgent amendment is passed.

Work on the $110 million expansion ceased on Monday when the Supreme Court ruled that the Territory Government's approval process was flawed.

Ms Martin has defended ignoring written advice from the mine that the approval process the Government followed would leave it open to a legal challenge.

She is convinced the Government did the right thing.

"The legal advice I've got is that we could appeal this but it will take months," she said.

Ms Martin says the Government will change the original legislation that governs the mine to allow it to have an open-cut operation.
Traditional owners not told

The Government had not told traditional owners that it would be rushing through the legislation.

But Ms Martin says they know that the Government wants the expansion to go ahead.

"I think the TOs [traditional owners] understood the decision had been made," she said.

"This is a technicality and the most direct way to act is a quick one, to say that the decision is one we're maintaining.

"So we're doing this with the greatest respect for everyone involved."

Mines Minister Chris Natt is also defending the way the Government has handled the case.

"The processes we work through are very, very stringent and they were controlled and very, very thorough," he said.

"It's just one small word - the word 'underground' has provided a situation where we've got to amend the situation."

Aboriginal owners win court battle against mining giant

Issue 128 - 03 May 2007



Issue 128, May 3, 2008: A GROUP of traditional Aboriginal land owners has won a bid to overturn the Northern Territory government's approval for the expansion of a major territory zinc mine.

The controversial project would have transformed the McArthur River Mine from underground to open-cut mining by diverting the river near the Gulf of Carpentaria by 5.5 kilometres.

The mine's owner, Swiss mining company Xstrata, was given approval for the $110 million expansion by the NT government in October last year.

But the Northern Land Council (NLC) mounted a legal challenge on behalf of the traditional owners, arguing the government had failed to follow proper procedures under the Mines Management Acts.

In the Northern Territory Supreme Court in Darwin on Monday Justice David Angel ruled in favour of the traditional owners, finding the government did not follow a correct process.

"The minister for mines and energy's acceptance of the amended mining management plan was of no effect because the mining management plan was not in respect of the mining activities," he said in his judgment.

"(It) does not authorise the third defendants' proposed open-cut mining operation."

Operators McArthur River Mining (MRM) first applied to expand the mine, on one of the world's largest zinc and lead deposits, in March last year.

The company said the underground mine was no longer viable and the development of an open-cut mine was the only way to secure the future of the operation.

The NT Government sent the plan back to the drawing board to deal with environmental concerns.

Monday's judgment casts doubt over whether the company can proceed with its expansion plans because Justice Angel found the approval process the government relied on was invalid.

Outside the court Charles Roche from the NT Environment Centre said the judgment was a win for both traditional owners and the environment.

"We do believe the decision is invalid under the act... it certainly should raise the bar that we will accept nothing less than best practice," he told reporters.

"We are delighted, it is a great win for the NT environment."

Work on diverting the river was supposed to begin this dry season, which officially began in the NT on Monday.

"The decision means they have to stop work immediately so they can't go ahead with digging the canal at this point in time," Mr Roche said.

"This was basically the last way we could protect the river from diversion, we have been concerned for a long time about its impacts.

"Today we have saved a tropical river and it's a great outcome."

Mr Roche said it would be interesting to see if MRM, which threatened to pull out of the Northern Territory last year if its expansion plans were not approved, would continue to pursue plans for a river diversion.

"They said if they could not get this approval they would walk away," he said.

MRM says on its website that the mine faces closure because underground mining is no longer viable.

But if open-cut mining was able to proceed, it would extend the mine's life by 25 years, providing jobs and other economic benefits to the Borroloola region.

MRM general manager Brian Hearne, who was present in court but left shortly after the judgment was handed down, later said in a statement the company was disappointed with the ruling.

But he said production of bulk concentrate would continue in order to meet customer requirements.

An MRM spokeswoman was unable to confirm whether the decision meant work already under way to expand the mine would have to stop immediately.

"It's really too early to comment on that," she said.

"We are not going to comment until we consider the judgment." - AAP

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