The Lizards Revenge is on again in 2016 and this time its called the Lizard Bites Back.
“Many of our food sources, traditional plants and trees are gone because of this mine. We worry for our water: it’s our main source of life. The mine causes many safety risks to our roads – transporting the uranium from the mine. It has stopped us from accessing our sacred sites and destroyed others. These can never be replaced. BHP never consulted me or my families, they select who they consult with. Many of our people have not had a voice. We want the mine stopped now, because it’s not good for anything.”
Eileen Wingfield, Kokatha elder
In 2012 from the 11-20 July 500+ brave souls participated in the Lizards Revenge protest at BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam uranium mine. The event was a huge success in drawing attention to the many problems with the mine. Hundreds of newspaper, radio and TV items provided opportunities to hold BHP Billiton and the SA and federal governments to account for racist policies (such as the mine’s exemptions from the SA Aboriginal Heritage Act), grossly irresponsible environmental practices, and irresponsible export policies such as selling uranium to nuclear weapons states and dictatorships.
In August 2012, BHP Billiton announced that the expansion was being postponed indefinitely pending investigation of a “new and cheaper design”.
BUT the poison began IN THE 1980s
The deposit was discovered by Western Mining Corporation, in 1975 and started production in 1988. It now belongs to BHP Billiton, see which acquired WMC Resources in 2005. The mine currently operates by an underground mining method called sublevel open stoping.
The Olympic Dam mine uses 35-42 million litres of Great Artesian Basin water each day, making it the largest industrial user of underground water in the southern hemisphere. Water is pumped along an underground pipeline from two bore fields which are located 110 km and 200 km to the north of the mine. The salty bore water requires desalination before it is used. Some studies have indicated that extraction of water is causing nearby mound springs to dry which is impacting rare and endangered flora and fauna.
This is the middle of nowhere, no-one live here?
ADELAIDE = The Arabunna people, traditional owners of the Lake Eyre region in South Australia, say that Western Mining Corporation has pursued a deliberate policy of “divide and rule” of Aboriginal people in order to claim it has their consent for expanding the Roxby Downs uranium mine.
The mine is located in Kokotha country, but WMC crosses into Arabunna country to extract water for the mining process. Arabunna people have never consented to WMC accessing their water or land.
In order to secure access, WMC signed an agreement with the Dieri-Mitha Association in January 1995. The Dieri-Mitha people do not have ownership or custodianship of the land under Arabunna law.
Financed by WMC, the Dieri-Mitha Council brought people from the Northern Territory to perform a ceremony on Arabunna land in an attempt to prove traditional links to the land. This led to violence between Arabunna and Dieri-Mitha people in Marree.
A queen’s counsel financed by WMC represented Dieri-Mitha people charged over the riot. Less than a week after the ceremony and its violent result, the Darwin-based law firm Barristers and Solicitors lodged a Dieri-Mitha land claim with the National Native Title Tribunal. The firm’s biggest client is WMC.
The claim boundary is identical to the Arabunna’s native title claim, lodged in 1993, but later withdrawn.
In 1996, the Dieri-Mitha Council was incorporated and continues to be funded by WMC. WMC obtained the council’s approval for pipeline work and a new bore-field and test bores on Arabunna land.
In 1997, the Arabunna Nulla Kari-Ku Wanga Association was formed to fight polices and practices that infringe on Arabunna cultural heritage. In January 1998, the Arabunna native title claim was lodged. The claim embraces Lake Eyre, Marree and the area surrounding and west of Oodnadatta almost to Coober Pedy.
On March 26 1999, the day the Roxby mine expansion was launched, Arabunna elder Kevin Buzzacott launched legal action against WMC managing director Hugh Morgan, federal environment minister Robert Hill, foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer and the commonwealth. He is charging them all with genocide.
The case against Morgan is being heard by the Supreme Court of South Australia. Central to the case is the argument that an act of genocide (as defined by the Genocide Convention Act 1949) is a civil wrong giving cause for action under South Australian law, and that actions causing serious mental harm to the Arabunna people and imposing conditions of life likely to destroy the Arabunna are acts of genocide.
The Arabunna are seeking a preservation order for the land and all their other property, including their culture, laws and spirituality. They are also seeking an interim injunction restraining Morgan and WMC from entering Arabunna land, compelling them to stop mining and all associated activities, and requiring them to leave Arabunna land immediately.
The Arabunna people say they have never ceded sovereignty and therefore never consented to the occupation of their land by any non-Arabunna people.
They are arguing that Morgan has imposed uranium mining on the Arabunna land and people; made racially discriminatory statements about Aborigines; pursued a divide and rule policy resulting in serious mental and physical harm to Arabunna people; used duress, undue influence and misrepresentation to attempt to obtain consent to mining activities; and was instrumental in the decision by Hill not to proceed with World Heritage listing of Arabunna land. The foreseeable and intended consequences of all these actions, say the Arabunna, constitute genocide.
They also argue that the latest expansion of Roxby Downs mine has caused serious mental harm to the Arabunna and that since this was a foreseeable consequence, it was also an act of genocide.
On April 14 1999, Justice Nyland, who is hearing the case, said she needed more specific evidence against Morgan and WMC. She did not dismiss the case, but dismissed the application for an injunction against Morgan’s mining activities. The Arabunna are considering an appeal and other legal action. WMC is applying for legal costs to be awarded to it.
World Heritage listing
Buzzacott and the Arabunna are also charging Hill, Downer and the commonwealth with genocide in the Federal Court.
The Arabunna say that Hill’s refusal to proceed with an application for World Heritage listing of the Lake Eyre region, despite the area meeting all the criteria for listing, caused serious and foreseeable mental harm and deliberately imposed conditions of life on the Arabunna that had the foreseeable consequence of destroying the Arabunna.
The case against Downer claims that he knew that Hill, in declining to proceed with World Heritage listing, was committing an act of genocide. The Arabunna allege that Downer failed to take any action to rectify this situation.
According to the Arabunna, other traditional owners in northern South Australia and environment activists, the decision not to proceed with World Heritage listing is related to the plans for the Billa Kalina waste dump and the Beverley uranium mine in the region.
The Arabunna are arguing that the commonwealth bears ultimate responsibility under both international and domestic law for the actions of Hill and Downer, and that it has deliberately failed to enact genocide legislation, as it agreed to do 50 years ago. The failure to pass such legislation, say the Arabunna, is an act of genocide in itself, allowing many acts of genocide against Aboriginal people, such as deaths in custody, removal of children and sterilising of women.
The relief sought by the Arabunna includes an injunction compelling Hill, Downer and the commonwealth to proceed with World Heritage listing of the Arabunna land and an injunction restraining them from allowing any activity which may affect the World Heritage value of the land.
On April 13, Chief Justice Black directed that the genocide claims against Hill, Downer and the commonwealth be heard by the full bench of the Federal Court on May 10. Buzzacott is continuing to ask the Federal Court to go to the Arabunna Going Home Camp at Lake Eyre South. Lawyers acting for Hill and Downer are applying to have the proceedings struck off.
Buzzacott said: “It’s good that the full bench of the Federal Court will hear our plea … We are preparing for that. Justice Nyland … had technical difficulties with the claim against Hugh Morgan. We have spoken enough. She needs to come to Lake Eyre for the full picture.
“There are also financial discussions — who is to wear the cost? Looks like poor people can’t have a chance against this system. If the Australian government is wearing the costs to represent Hill, Downer and the commonwealth, why can’t they wear the costs for my lawyer?
“While the courts are mucking about trying to work out how they are going to deal with these genocide charges, we have to sit back and suffer. If genocide is not a crime, how do we stop it? The court system seems to cater for the wrongdoers. We need a people’s government, a proper system that can cater for all.”
Two weeks ago, Buzzacott drew attention to the possible use of Roxby uranium by NATO forces in Serbia in the form of depleted uranium ammunition, used extensively during the Gulf War. “I have good reason to believe that nine countries that are part of NATO are buyers of uranium from Roxby Downs and are using my sacred water from the Lake Eyre Basin to treat this uranium”, he stated.
Many activists have visited the Arabunna Going Home Camp, set up on March 26, and more are planning to go. In Adelaide, the Keepers of Lake Eyre have formed to provide solidarity with the Arabunna and to campaign against the Roxby mine. The Arabunna urgently need donations to help fund their legal action and the camp. For more information, phone KOLE on (08) 8232 8595.
Roxby Downs expansion to cause irreparable damage
ADELAIDE — On March 26, the $1.9 billion expansion of Western Mining Corporation’s (WMC) Roxby Downs mine in the north of South Australia was launched by Prime Minister John Howard.
Those attending were treated to silver service meals, golf and winery tours. SA’s establishment newspaper, the Advertiser, celebrated the occasion with a full-colour, eight-page spread. It described the mine and its expansion as “a marvellous return from what 15 years ago was regarded as a useless area of red sand and mulga”.
However, the history of the Roxby Downs mine proves otherwise.
WMC discovered one of the world’s largest copper and uranium deposits at Olympic Dam in 1975. By 1979, work on the site had begun as a joint venture between WMC and British Petroleum. In June 1982, an indenture agreement was signed between the state Liberal government and the companies.
The Roxby Downs Indenture Ratification Act of 1982 gives WMC and the government the right to withhold information from the public unless both parties agree to release it, obligates the state to facilitate access to Great Artesian Basin water free of charge, and overrides existing Aboriginal heritage and environmental legislation.
The act refers to the annual production of copper and “associated products”. It sets no limit on the amount of uranium that can be mined and/or processed at Roxby Downs. In 1984, the federal Labor government approved the production of up to 150,000 tonnes of copper per annum. The mine commenced production in 1988.
In February 1994, WMC announced that up to 5 billion litres of liquid waste had escaped from its tailings system. Tailings retain 80% of the radioactivity of the original uranium ore and liquid tailings are 100,000 times more acidic than the ground water.
According to WMC, the leakage had been occurring for two years but only became known in January 1994. A 1995 parliamentary inquiry found that the design, monitoring and supervision of the tailings system was deficient. It found that only when the leak was too big to ignore was action taken. Despite these findings, the inquiry concluded that it was highly unlikely that the leak would have harmful effects.
To this day, the mine’s tailings storage system remains unlined, still leaks and the location of the toxic radioactive pollutants is still unknown.
In 1995, WMC applied to expand its production to 150,000 tonnes per annum of copper and for the development of a new Great Artesian Basin bore-field. In January 1996, the federal Labor government approved the expansion and the state Liberal government granted a special water license. In December 1996, amendments to the Indenture Act gave WMC the legal right to extract 42 million litres of water each day from the Great Artesian Basin for the next 40 years.
The Roxby Downs Amendment Bill was introduced into the SA parliament on October 24, 1996, and was passed in the Legislative Council, supported by the ALP, on November 28. There was virtually no public consultation.
The amendments gave WMC total control over Aboriginal sites of significance, with the power to decide which sites were to be protected. WMC was freed from any obligation to consult Aboriginal communities. The amendments gave WMC permission to use 250 megawatts of power per year, from SA or interstate, to generate power on site from gas delivered by a pipeline from Moomba and to export power from Roxby.
The amendments facilitated a $1.25 billion expansion that increased production from 84,000 tonnes to around 200,000 tonnes of refined copper and associated uranium, gold and silver. This 135% increase in production resulted in only a 20% increase in permanent on-site jobs. Each job cost $6.25 million to create.
The latest expansion will nearly double production. Each job created will cost $9.5 million.
The expansion will increase uranium production from 1500 to 4600 tonnes per year. To date, more than 13,000 tonnes of uranium ore concentrate have been extracted and exported from Roxby. Copper mining will increase from 200,000 tonnes to 350,000 tonnes per year.
While uranium mining may appear to be a small part of WMC operations at Roxby, uranium output accounts for 25% of its income.
The environmental impact of the expansion will be enormous. In 1996-1997, Roxby generated 422,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. The expansion will increase this to 1.5 million tonnes per year. In 1998, Roxby’s use of electricity was equivalent to 10% of the SA’s usage. In 1996-97, there were 2.7 million tonnes of radioactive tailings covering 190 hectares. The expansion will increase the output of tailings to 12.5 million tonnes per year.
Even without the expansion, the mine is causing irreparable damage to both the cultural and environmental heritage of the Lake Eyre region. The destruction of the mound springs of the area is a direct result of the amount of water WMC extracts from the Great Artesian Basin. The mound springs are of profound cultural significance to Arabunna people, traditional owners of the Lake Eyre region.