The Traditional Owners from McArthur River (Yanyuwa, Mara, Garrawa and Gurdanji) have initiated another legal challenge against the approval to mine and divert the McArthur River. The new action is being taken in the Federal Court and challenges the decision by the Commonwealth Environment Minister to approve the mine under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC).
This a gutsy move by the Traditional Owners. In challenging the Commonwealth Government they are effectively challenging the Prime Minister, John Howard, who gave his personal approval for the mine before the decision was made by his Minister. Supposedly the Minister was unswayed by the strong and vocal support by the Prime Minister for Xstrata’a mine expansion, but personally I have my doubts.
In making his decision the Senator Campbell relied on the Northern Territory Governments assessment (see the criticisms of the proposal by the NT EPA body), a process that was flawed, politicised and highly irregular. In making his decision Senator Campbell stated “I am satisfied that the proposed changes to the mine will not have a significant impact on matters of national environmental significance”. This fits neatly with the Prime Minister’s comments on the 4th October 2006, when he referred to the mine as a national issue. Clearly the Howard Government sees Xstrata’s mine as nationally significant, but regards the McArthur River as having no national environmental significance. Compare that to the PM’s latest 10 billion dollar water plan for the south and it sounds like hypocrisy.
The details of the approval are sketchy, mainly because the assement was done using the Mine Management Plan which Xstrata and the NT Government are refusing to release to the public. For more information (links) see the Environment Ministers media release, the approval under the EPBC Act the conditions imposed and the statement of reasons for the decision.
At the moment details of the challenge are not available but stay tuned…