Australian news, and some related international items

Above Australia’s State and Federal laws – BHP and Olympic Damn uranium mine

Jim Green: Project a rule unto itself Adelaide Now, Jim Green July 10, 2012 OLYMPIC Dam is like a state with no environment, water, Aboriginal and FoI laws, says Jim Green. HUNDREDS of Australians will converge on BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam uranium/copper mine – and a camp up the Oodnadatta Track – from Saturday for five days of protest, education and entertainment.

The concerns leading people to participate are many and varied. The overarching concern might be expressed as a failure of governance – corporate and political.

Olympic Dam is a state within a state. It operates under a unique set of laws enshrined in the amended Roxby Downs Indenture Act.

That would be unobjectionable except that the Indenture Act allows Olympic Dam wide-ranging exemptions from environmental, water management and Aboriginal Heritage laws and, for good measure, it curtails the application of the Freedom of Information Act.

SA Liberal Party industry spokesman Martin Hamilton-Smith said “every word of the (Indenture) agreement favours BHP, not South Australians”. It beggars belief the SA Labor Government would agree to such one-sided terms and that Mr Hamilton-Smith and his Liberal colleagues waved it through Parliament with no amendments.

The only politician to insist on some scrutiny of the amended
Indenture Act was Greens MLA Mark Parnell. The transcripts of his
late-night parliamentary questioning of the Labor Government ought to
be required reading. Time and time again, the government spokesperson
said BHP wanted such-and-such a provision in the Indenture Act, and
the Government simply agreed without further consideration or

For example, Mr Parnell asked why the Indenture Act retained
exemptions from the SA Aboriginal Heritage Act. The government
spokesperson said: “BHP were satisfied with the current arrangements
and insisted on the continuation of these arrangements, and the
Government did not consult further than that.”

In a scathing assessment of the Olympic Dam royalties regime enshrined
in the Indenture Act, journalist Paul Clearly wrote in The Australian
(21/10/11) that the regime “has robbed the state’s citizens and all
Australians of the opportunity to share in the profits of what will
become the world’s biggest mine”. Olympic Dam is a state within a
state – and it has shades of a Stalinist state. When a mine worker
provided the media photos of multiple leaks in the tailings dams in
2009, BHP’s response was to threaten “disciplinary action” against any
workers caught taking photos.

The SA Government was conspicuously silent.
n 2010, another worker was sufficiently concerned about occupational
health issues at Olympic Dam that he leaked information to the media.
The leaked documents allege BHP uses manipulated averages and
distorted sampling to ensure its official figures of worker radiation
exposure slip under the maximum exposure levels set by Government. Are
those claims true? Who knows?

So there we have a couple of examples of serious concerns being raised
by mine workers, with inadequate responses (or no response at all)
from BHP and the SA Government, and no way for any of us to get to the
truth of the matter.

Also, mining consultants Advanced Geomechanics noted in a 2004 report
that radioactive slurry was deposited “partially off” a lined area of
a storage pond at Olympic Dam, contributing to greater seepage and
rising ground water levels; that there is no agreed, accurate formula
to determine the rate of evaporation of tailings and how much leaks
into the ground; and that cells within a tailings pond covered an area
more than three times greater than recommended, requiring “urgent
remedial measures”.

Have any of those problems been addressed? I doubt it. But we do know
that the management of radioactive tailings has been an ongoing
headache for decades and that the volume is set to go through the roof
– from 10 million tonnes annually to 68 million tonnes……

July 10, 2012 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, politics, South Australia, uranium |

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