Australian news, and some related international items

A week of anti nuclear protest at Australia’s top target – Pine Gap

pinegap1Pine Gap: 50 years as Australia’s prime nuclear target ICAN Australia 26 September – 2 October 2016:

A week of activities will expose the role of Pine Gap in war, surveillance and nuclear targeting. Beginning on the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, 26th September, hundreds of people are gathering at the Pine Gap Joint Defence Facility, just 20km from Alice Springs, NT.

A protest camp and conference will discuss the role of the highly secretive facility in drone targeting, mass citizen surveillance and in preparations for nuclear war. The facility is the most likely Australian target in the event of a nuclear war involving the US, immediately jeopardizing the 25,000 residents of Alice Springs, and others in the path of radioactive fallout. “Pine Gap makes critical contributions to planning for nuclear war.

In the fragile world of nuclear deterrence, efforts should be directed at total nuclear disarmament,” said Professor Richard Tanter, University of Melbourne. A UN working group on nuclear disarmament has issued a breakthrough recommendation for the General Assembly to convene a conference in 2017 to negotiate “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”. Austrian Foreign Minister Kurz announced last Wednesday that Austria, along with other UN members states, will table a resolution at the General Assembly First Committee in October, seeking a mandate for negotiations to begin next year.

logo-ICAN“For 71 years the majority of countries have experienced the injustice and insecurity that nuclear weapons represent,” said Ray Acheson of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, a steering group member of ICAN. “With negotiations of a ban treaty on the horizon, we are as close as we have ever been to effectively challenging the continued possession of these weapons of mass destruction.”

“When a treaty banning nuclear weapons is negotiated, Australia will be expected to sign it, as it has signed treaties to outlaw other abhorrent weapons. To enable Australia to sign on, the functions of Pine Gap should exclude preparations for nuclear war. This facility has served to implicate Australia in nuclear aggression and as a prime nuclear target for 50 years too long,” said Gem Romuld, ICAN Australia. ICAN Australia will be speaking at the IPAN Conference and participating in the protest camp this week. More information: Disarm protest camp, 26-30 September Independent and Peaceful Australia Network Conference, 1-2 October

September 28, 2016 Posted by | Northern Territory, opposition to nuclear | Leave a comment

Northern Land Council delay agreement on Rio Tinto uranium exploration

handsoffLauren Mellor, 27 Sept 16 Quick update from the NT as some of you may have seen the news last week that Rio Tinto was granted exploration rights for uranium at a site called Dry Creek, part of the Garawa Wanyii Land Trust on the border of the NT and QLD in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Well-known Garawa/Wanyii Aboriginal rights activist Alec Doomadgee’s family are caretakers for the area concerned and he has been posting video updates online about the situation, saying the community are preparing to challenge the Northern Land Council’s sign off on the project with Rio Tinto (you can view some on his Facebook page and the Borroloola Change-makers page).
Opposition to the agreement is high and the community have responded quickly to the announcement calling for new meetings to clarify and reverse any decision made.
A fired-up delegation from the community including Alec have just travelled to Darwin and met with the NLC executive on Friday.
The outcome was that NLC have agreed not to proceed with the agreement sign-off until new community meetings can be called in coming weeks.
I’ve been speaking with people from Gulf communities and it looks like the ‘agreement’ was reached through a very sloppy consultation process with the NLC piggy-backing off an IPA meeting for the Garawa/Wanyii Land Trust and creating alot of confusion about the projects being discussed.
When some people requested more information about the uranium exploration project the NLC took that to mean agreement to start negotiations and as a ‘yes’ to exploration, which many will know ultimately means a yes to mining further down the track if the company wants to proceed..

September 28, 2016 Posted by | aboriginal issues, Northern Territory, uranium | Leave a comment

Pine Gap endangers Australia – a likely target for nuclear missiles

Map-Aust-Target1Pine Gap: Secretive spy base’s role in drone strikes putting Australia in danger, expert warns  The World Today  By Brendan Trembath  An expert on Pine Gap has raised concerns about the spy base’s role in supporting drone attacks on suspected terrorists overseas.

Officially called The Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap, the site is jointly run by the Australian and United States governments and is one of Australia’s most secret sites. The facility has been in operation since 1970 and is located half-an-hour’s drive south-west of Alice Springs.

Professor Richard Tanter, from the University of Melbourne, says Pine Gap contributes targeting data to American drone operations, including assassinations. “One of Pine Gap’s two key functions is as a control station and a downlink station for signal intelligence satellites 36,000 kilometres up in space,” he said. “They are picking up a very wide array of radio transmissions, including cell phones, satellite phones and so forth. “And that provides the data, both the contents and the geolocation data for targets of interest through the United States military.”

He said Pine Gap was also used for counter-terrorism and wider intelligence programs, as the site was able to contribute data “pretty directly — for example into drone targeting operations.”

Professor Tanter acknowledged that those type of programs were part of the alliance between the US and Australia, and Australia’s interest in the global fight against terrorism

But he said the question was whether it could be considered a good idea on a political level, seeing the potential for creating “further terrorism” if a strike were to go wrong.

“At a legal and moral level do we really want to be involved in operations which are frankly illegal under international law. In countries where we’re not at war, such as Pakistan or Somalia or Yemen, these are simply assassinations.”

“We won’t like it very much when it’s done back to us I suspect.”

Base also a likely target for nuclear missiles Professor Tanter said the site continued to be a “pretty high priority nuclear missile target” in the event of a major conflict between the United States and Russia or China.

“It would be, as they say in the military, a lucrative target of many benefits,” Professor Tanter said . “Secondly it is itself involved in nuclear war planning. I think that’s a totally awful thing for us to contemplate — you can’t use nuclear weapons except in a fairly genocidal way.”The Defence Department said that “the facility makes an important contribution to national security.”

A spokesperson said: “It provides intelligence on priorities such as terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and foreign military capability and weapons developments. “It also supports monitoring of compliance with arms control and disarmament agreements, and provides ballistic missile early warning information.”

September 24, 2016 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, Northern Territory, safety, weapons and war | 1 Comment

Moratorium on fracking now in place in Northern Territory

Fracking moratorium takes effect in NT, Chief Minister Michael Gunner says, By Avani Dias  A moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, begins today, with Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner announcing the move at an oil and gas summit in Darwin.

“I announce that the Government will as of today implement this election commitment to introduce a moratorium of hydraulic fracturing of the Territory’s unconventional gas resources,” Mr Gunner told the South East Asia Australia Offshore and Onshore Conference…….

September 16, 2016 Posted by | energy, Northern Territory | Leave a comment

Federal govt slashes safety checks at Ranger uranium mine

ERA, controlled by Rio Tinto, stopped mining new ore in 2012. Since then, it has been extracting ore – totalling about 2000 tonnes a year – from tailings at a rate that leaves 999 tonnes of waste for every uranium tonne produced.

Under federal statutes, the millions of tonnes of waste rock and billions of litres of water must be stored so “radiological material is separated from the environment for 10,000 years”, Mr O’Brien said.

“All that contaminated matter … all the buildings, the mill, the power plant, all the machinery, all the trucks – everything – has to be put into pits.”

Ranger mine 16

Lone Ranger: Kakadu uranium miner faces fewer safety checks, The Age, Peter Hannam, 30 Aug 16   The controversial Ranger uranium mine in the Top End has had its independent government oversight depleted just years before its closure in a move the local Aboriginal organisation describes as “absurd”.

Since December, the Supervising Scientist Branch – the agency under the federal environment department enforcing standards at the giant mine – has halted atmospheric testing of radon and other radioactive dust from the project owned by Energy Resources of Australia.

Neither has the SSB’s environmental research institute – known as ERISS – tested a range of foods including fish and wallaby eaten by the nearby traditional owners, the Mirarr people, since 2011, according to one insider.   Continue reading

August 31, 2016 Posted by | environment, Northern Territory | Leave a comment

Uranium miner ERA forced to slash its assets value

burial.uranium-industryEnergy Resources of Australia slashes asset values, The Age, Brian Robins 30 Aug 16  Uranium miner Energy Resources of Australia has been forced to slash the value of its assets by $161 million, almost equal to the company’s remaining sharemarket value.

With its controversial Ranger mine, which is surrounded by the Kakadu National Park, scheduled to close within five years, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) had questioned the way ERA valued its assets in its December 31, 2015 financial report.

The miner had now conceded that the value at which it carried the Ranger mine assets in its books “exceeded fair value”, ASIC said in a statement on Tuesday.

ERA pointed to weakness in the uranium oxide price at a time when the mine had only a five-year life left, without an extension of its authority to mine, as reasons for booking the impairment.

The write-down compares with ERA’s sharemarket worth of just $173 million, which signals deep-seated investor pessimism over its prospects in light of the traditional land owners’ opposition to extending the operation of the mine.

In the June half, ERA lost $35.2 million, which blew out to $196.5 million following the write-down. Revenue slipped to $170.5 million from $185.8 million due to the weak uranium price……..

ASIC had queried the company’s use of a single discount rate when valuing its assets. ERA has agreed to use different valuation techniques for the mining and rehabilitation of the site, for example.

ERA’s biggest single asset is its accumulated losses, which now total $822.8 million and tower over the value of its dwindling equity of $273.4 million.

August 31, 2016 Posted by | business, Northern Territory, uranium | Leave a comment

Suppression of native title for the Mirarr people- extinguishment of rights?

Timber Creek Aboriginal custodians win historic $3.3 million payout for native title rights loss, ABC News,  By Avani Dias and Jessicah Mendes  25 Aug 16  “………Extinguishment principle ‘hard to accept’

In a separate decision, the Federal Court has partially recognised the rights of the Mirarr people to one of the longest-running native title claims in the Territory.

The court has recognised the Mirarr’s rights over sections of the township of Jabiru that have been subleased to government entities. But those rights only apply if and when the leases expire — a move described as the “suppression” of native title.

The ruling also rejected or ‘extinguished’ the Mirarr’s rights over areas of the town subleased to private companies such as Energy Resources Australia — the operators of the Ranger uranium mine.

Mr Morrison said the case had been a complicated one.

“I think it was a very difficult case but I think it also sets an important precedent to partially recognise, through suppression, native title in parts of Jabiru,” he said.

But he said the concept of a native title claim being rejected or “extinguished” could be very difficult for Aboriginal people to accept.

“Aboriginal people right around the country have said it’s an abhorrent feature of the Native Title Act, this extinguishment principle.”

August 26, 2016 Posted by | aboriginal issues, AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, Northern Territory | Leave a comment

Landmark payout for Aboriginal custidians who have lost their native title rights.

Timber Creek Aboriginal custodians win historic $3.3 million payout for native title rights loss, ABC News,  By Avani Dias and Jessicah Mendes  25 Aug 16 More than 20 years after the landmark Mabo decision, the Federal Court has for the first time determined how to award compensation to traditional owners who have lost their native title rights.

Key points:

  • First time court has quantified loss of cultural attachment to land
  • Decision expected to trigger new cases
  • NLC ‘very happy’ with outcome of decision

Aboriginal custodians of Timber Creek, 600km south-west of Darwin, have been awarded $3.3 million in compensation for the loss of their native title rights. Continue reading

August 26, 2016 Posted by | aboriginal issues, AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, Northern Territory | Leave a comment

Garma festival: Indigenous leaders call for land ownership settlement, slam land rights ‘failures’

Indigenous leaders at the Garma festival in northeast Arnhem Land have called for land ownership settlement, slamming the ‘failures’ of the Land Rights Act and Native Title Act that have allowed mining companies access to indigenous land.

August 3, 2016 Posted by | aboriginal issues, Northern Territory | Leave a comment

Wakaya Traditional Aboriginal Owners steadfast against fracked gas pipeline

text-relevantNT Traditional Owners walk out on fracked gas pipeline deal Lock The Gate Alliance, July 28, 2016 Northern Territory Traditional Owners whose land is being targeted for the proposed new gas pipeline between Tennant Creek and Mt Isa have yesterday afternoon walked out of a joint Central and Northern Land Council meeting, pushing against a planned access route deal for Jemena’s Northern Gas Pipeline, due to concerns about the impacts of fracking gasfields.

A Land Council notice for the meeting asked, ‘are you ready to say yes or no to the pipeline?’ (see here). But the concerns and objections raised by Traditional Owners about the rushed consultation process and the proposed pipeline’s reliance on fracked gas has now meant the decision meeting is postponed until late September……

A final investment decision on the pipeline is due in December 2016 but Wakaya Traditional Owners say they will not back down and allow the project to proceed on their land. Continue reading

July 29, 2016 Posted by | aboriginal issues, Northern Territory | Leave a comment

Taxpayers left with the bill for cleaning up uranium mines

Mary-Kathleen-Uranium-mine-The Humphries Report illuminates the challenge for the mining sector and state governments and it contains just five case studies……

For the environment, the risks are clear, the Mary Kathleen uranium mine, once controlled by Rio, was rehabilitated and relinquished in 1986, winning an award for technical excellence at the time. The waste dump has since failed and the liability and attendant costs now reside with Queensland taxpayers.

Mary Kathleen, whose AFL side once won three regional premierships, is now a ghost town. Radioactive waste has seeped into the water systems.

Taxpayers to foot the bill for mine closures, Independent Australia  26 July 2016 Mine rehabilitation – to avoid toxic seepage – is a costly business which taxpayers look likely to fund, writes Michael West.

MINING COMPANIES and regulators have gravely underestimated the costs of mine rehabilitation, leaving taxpayers in the gun for billions of dollars in clean-up costs, says Rick Humphries.

He should know. Humphries was Rio Tinto’s top adviser on land use before heading up mine rehabilitation for base metals groupMMG.

The environmental scientist has since “switched sides” to consult for conservation groups on mine closure.

Humphries told us in an interview last week:

“The problem is there is a very large and growing environmental liability and if it’s not put in check it will cost taxpayers dearly, and result in large scale degradation of national resources.”

There are some 50,000 abandoned mine sites in Australia. Many are small and old. Others though, such as Century Zinc Mine, Ranger Uranium and the first of the mega coal mines to close – Anglo American’s Drayton and Rio Tinto’s Blair Athol – are large, toxic and present a formidable challenge to close properly.

The humongous Ranger and Century open cut voids alone, will cost around $750 million to $1 billion to rehabilitate and the residual risks and liabilities for their parent companies (Rio Tinto and MMG) are as yet unknown.  Continue reading

July 27, 2016 Posted by | environment, Northern Territory | Leave a comment

The critically important work of Australia’s indigenous rangers

Indigenous rangers play a silent and undervalued role as leaders and educators in their communities, role models for how to progress in both worlds. It’s important to provide local, challenging, culturally relevant, real jobs to keep these leaders embedded within the fabric of their families and communities.

They need a commitment beyond 2018 that their real jobs will still exist.

[The video below does not apply to The Numbulwar ranger group, but still gives an example of the kind of work that they do]

Queensland Indigenous Land and Sea Ranger Program

Are Indigenous rangers engaged in ‘real jobs’? The answer is simple, Guardian , 22 July 16 

As well as protecting the land, Indigenous rangers play an undervalued role as leaders in their communities. It’s never been more important to protect these jobs. Many conservative politicians and commentators argue Indigenous ranger jobs are not “real jobs”. This is perfectly illustrated by the recentleaking to Crikey of a secret federal Coalition government plan to radically change this successful Indigenous ranger program in order to “get participants into employment”. While the minister for Indigenous affairs, Nigel Scullion has denied he is planning an overhaul of the program, his government has not made a commitment to fund the program beyond 2018.

This question of whether ranger jobs are “real jobs” can easily be put to rest.

The Numbulwar ranger group in Arnhem Land was re-established in November 2015, Continue reading

July 23, 2016 Posted by | aboriginal issues, employment, environment, Northern Territory | Leave a comment

Coalition govt’s secret plan to take over community-run indigenous rangers scheme

secret-agent-AustLeaked docs reveal secret Coalition plans for indigenous rangers Although the Indigenous Rangers — Working on Country program is a huge success, Nigel Scullion wants to overhaul it from a community-run to a top-down structure. Crikey, Josh Taylor , 15 July 16  A secret document, leaked to Crikey, reveals significant changes being considered for the federal government’s wildly successful indigenous rangers program — that is, if Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion keeps his job and is around to implement them.

The “Indigenous Rangers — Working on Country” program was started in 2007 under the Howard government as a means to provide employment and training for indigenous Australians into work applying their knowledge of the local land to care for it. It currently employs 777 indigenous rangers in full-time roles in 107 different groups, and more than 2500 indigenous people overall in full-time, part-time or casual positions…… (subscribers only)

July 16, 2016 Posted by | aboriginal issues, Northern Territory | Leave a comment

Uranium price slump further reduces ERA sales

doom and gloomERA uranium output slumps THE AUSTRALIAN JULY 13, 2016 Mill maintenance sharply reduced June quarter production by Ranger uranium miner Energy Resources of Australia.

Production for the period, characterised by a further fall in the already depressed spot price for uranium to $US26.40 a pound, slumped 18 per cent to 489 tonnes.

The 68 per cent-owned Rio Tinto subsidiary had been reduced to treating stockpiled material and was accumulating cash to cover the estimated rehabilitation cost of the mine, inside Kakadu, of more than $500 million.

Recently it reported it was holding cash of $433m, prompting Rio to offer a $100m credit facility to ensure rehabilitation costs were met…….

ERA had been planning to extend its mine life by developing the Ranger 3 Deeps deposit, but Rio and the traditional owners did not support the plan, meaning ERA’s existing Ranger authority to operate is set to end in 2021.

ERA has nevertheless preserved the option of an eventual development of Ranger 3 Deeps by committing to spending about $4m annually on care and maintenance of the exploration decline and related infrastructure.

The option was the key finding of the group’s strategic review, released in May, after it was clear the support of Rio and the traditional owners was not forthcoming.

Rio’s no-interest rehabilitation credit facility came with the condition that ERA did not seek to extend production at Ranger beyond 2020 by developing the Ranger 3 Deeps.

ERA previously said that while it expected to fully fund the rehabilitation, it might have to draw on the Rio funding in some situations…..

July 13, 2016 Posted by | business, Northern Territory, uranium | Leave a comment

Indigenous rangers partner with scientists in researching coral bleaching

coral bleachingIndigenous rangers on the frontline of coral bleaching in remote Australia, ABC News By the National Reporting Team’s Kate Wild, 12 July 16  [Excellent pictures and video] In April this year Indigenous rangers from the Crocodile Islands received an alarming photograph of a coral reef off the coast of Arnhem Land. Leonard Bowaynu, who has fished the same reef since he was teenager, had seen small scattered patches of white coral before — but never anything this extensive.

“We used to go out, catch fish from the reefs. I never seen coral turning to white, like around the island or reef,” he said. Concerned by the image, rangers travelled to the area with a drone and GoPro camera to collect further evidence.

Michael Mungula said it was the first time Yolgnu people had seen the coral bleached white at that reef.
“At Murrangga [Island] we never seen white coral there before, during the 50s, 60s and 70s. But we seen it now, 2016.” “We need scientists to come here and do research in the Crocodile Islands,” Mr Mungula said. Meanwhile, 300 kilometres south-east, in waters around Groote Eylandt, Indigenous Rangers were watching giant clams turn white as well.

Anindilyakwa Rangers on Groote Eylandt began trialling the cultivation of giant blue-lipped clams (Tridacna squamosa) five years ago.

But in April the rangers noticed a number of the clams had turned white. Rick Taylor, the ranger manager, sent underwater footage of the clams to the ABC. He said it was first time he had seen the clams bleach since the trial was established in 2011.

With the two ranger groups’ permission, the ABC sent images of the Crocodile Islands coral and clams from Groote Eylandt to marine scientist Andrew Heyward at the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

Dr Heyward said the aerial photograph from the Crocodile Islands provided the first confirmation of a bleaching event in Arnhem Land. “It appears that in those areas checked it was severe,” he said. He said the photograph Crocodile Islands Rangers had received was confirmation of a massive bleaching event over the reef.

“The comments by the local rangers that they have never seen it [like this] before in their country is particularly telling that things are unprecedented, at least in human generational time frames,” Dr Heyward told the ABC……..

Skilled observers a precious commodity Dr Heyward said Indigenous rangers were able monitor environmental shifts in parts of the country most people cannot reach, and said he was keen for scientists and rangers to work together……Ranger groups have expressed enthusiasm for equal partnerships with scientists.

July 13, 2016 Posted by | aboriginal issues, climate change - global warming, Northern Territory | Leave a comment