The Northern Territory (NT) and Australian Governments recently approved the expansion of the McArthur River mine. The expansion involves the mining of the existing river bed via a massive open-pit mine and the construction of a new 5.5km channel.
The proposal will potentially have serious, long term and irreversible impacts on the McArthur River – a major tropical river in the NT’s Gulf region – including the effects of sedimentation and heavy metal pollution on the river and on the rich downstream marine environments of the Gulf of Carpentaria. There is evidence the new mine would also harm the survival prospects of the McArthur River’s population of the IUCN Red Book ‘critically endangered’ Freshwater sawfish.
The River is extremely important to the four Indigenous language groups that share and live along the River, the Gurdanji, Mara, Garrawa and Yanyuwa. In recent months the groups have become increasingly united and vocal in their opposition, not to the mine, but to the river being moved. They feel they have been ignored and left out of an approval process that had no respect for their culture and spiritual connection with the land and river – what they describe as their gudgiga – their songs and stories.
Unfortunately, both governments, whilst acknowledging concerns, have chosen to approve the proposal on the grounds that any issues can be managed. The Traditional Owners reject this, as to move the River would effect their dreamtime stories (spiritual link with country). Environmentally we reject it, due to the lack of evidence supporting the proponents claims and the high and catastrophic nature of the risk involved in diverting a tropical river.
The current campaign is essentially a pro-river campaign with the main objective being to stop the 5.5km diversion of the McArthur River. The campaign has been a joint effort between environment groups and the Traditional Owners from the area. The focus to date has been on the proposal assessment process and lobbying both Northern Territory and Australian Governments to reject the application to mine on environmental and cultural grounds. The Traditional Owners are challening both the NT and Australian Governments decisions to approve the mine.
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