Land council taking minister to court

This article from the Australian provides a good background on the two legal cases.

ONE of Australia’s most influential Aboriginal land councils is taking legal action against former federal environment minister Ian Campbell over the expansion of the Northern Territory’s largest zinc mine. The Northern Land Council (NLC) already has mounted a legal challenge against the Northern Territory government in the NT Supreme Court on behalf of traditional Aboriginal landowners.

It claims the Government should not have approved an application by Swiss mining company Xstrata to divert the McArthur River, near the Gulf of Carpentaria, by 5.5km.

The $110 million expansion is part of a project by Xstrata subsidiary McArthur River Mining (MRM) to turn the operation from underground to open cut mining.

Fresh legal action is now being taken by the NLC against Senator Campbell, who signed off on the project after the NT Government’s approval in October last year.

The group lodged an application in the Federal Court last week, claiming Senator Campbell – who now holds the human services portfolio – failed to follow proper process under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.

It also alleges his decision did not take into account how the mine would affect freshwater sawfish populations and the local environment. “Procedures that were required by law to be observed in connection with the making of the decision were not observed,” the application said.

The grounds of the NLC challenge against the Territory Government include a failure to follow relevant procedures under the Mines Management Act, a failure to provide local Aboriginals with natural justice and a failure to consider the impacts on the environment.

MRM first applied to expand the mine in March, but the NT Government sent it back to the drawing board to deal with environmental concerns.

The company made a number of concessions, including funding an independent environmental monitoring process and providing $32 million for a Community Benefits Package. It also has to pay a $55.5 million security bond for the first year of development. The bond will be increased to reflect the higher potential environmental impact when the river is finally diverted in 2008.

The McArthur River mine was first approved in 1993 and was the first major mining development following the the High Court’s 1992 Mabo decision recognising native title.

A hearing for the matter against Senator Campbell has been set down for March 13 in the Federal Court. A spokesman for Senator Campbell said he was unable to comment on the matter while it was before the courts.

By Tara Ravens

 http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,21275438-1702,00.html

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