Arkaroola Protection Bill
Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart) (16:08): As members of this house would know, Arkaroola is within the electorate of Stuart. It is an incredibly special place in the northern Flinders Ranges, and I am exceptionally proud to have it in the electorate that I represent here in parliament. I am pleased that there will be no mining at Arkaroola. Let me be very clear: I strongly support mining; but I can look at any piece of land and consider its beauty, its cultural significance, its current and alternative uses and say that I would prefer no mining to take place there and for it to be left as it is. Even the plainest outback country would still be more attractive without a mine on it.
However, the reality is that we do need an active and successful mining industry. So, in all situations it comes down to the cost-benefit analysis, taking absolutely everything into consideration. The more remarkable an area is, the more I and most people would hope that the genuine cost-benefit analysis comes out on the side of not mining. Therefore, in that vein, I am very pleased that there will be no mining in Arkaroola.
The unfortunate part of this situation is that the government repeatedly granted mining exploration licences to companies to explore within the Arkaroola pastoral lease, the most recent of which is Marathon Resources. This is what has made getting to this point so messy and so prolonged. I do believe that if a company is granted an exploration licence, and if that exploration is fruitful, the company should be optimistic that a mining lease, with responsible conditions attached, would subsequently be granted.
What has happened in this case is that, after providing renewals of the mining exploration lease to Marathon Resources, Labor's last premier announced that his government would prohibit all mining in Arkaroola—with no consultation with Marathon Resources, no consultation with the local Aboriginal leaders, no consultation (we are told) with the minister for mineral resources, and, I suspect, no consultation with (other than, perhaps, last minute advice to) the Sprigg family, although that was probably not necessary, as they were certainly going to be grateful for the decision.
As the shadow minister for mineral resources has already outlined, the court will determine whether Marathon Resources is due any compensation for the way in which the government has handled this matter, and I anticipate there will end up being significant compensation paid to Marathon Resources at taxpayer expense, but that will be up to the court.
It is very important to point out that Doug and Marg Sprigg are not opposed to mining in general. Their family and this property have both been involved in mining in many ways for decades. They are not opposed to mining. They certainly are opposed to the mining of uranium in the vicinity of Mount Gee, for various reasons, including, among others:
·fear of damage to the great beauty of the area;
·fear of damage to the environment;
·the previously unacceptable behaviour of Marathon Resources whereby they had inappropriate material buried on site;
·the extreme terrain and relative inaccessibility and, therefore, extremely high cost of mining in the area; and
·because they have never believed that commercially attractive quantities of uranium actually exist in the area.
With regard to the value of the resource, Marathon has a very different opinion, and now it seems that no-one will ever know.
For my part, I believe that the class A environmental protection that has been in place since 2003 did give enormous protection to the Arkaroola area. If it had been proven commercially attractive and environmentally responsible to mine in the area, it still would not have been legally possible to do so unless it could also be proven that it was in the highest interest of our state and the nation to do so. I freely acknowledge that the Spriggs and others thought it was important to have even greater protection, and have now received it, but I do think that the previous protection was sufficient. It is important to point out that that protection was in place before Marathon started exploring, so they knew the hurdles that would have to be jumped for any company to ever be permitted to actually mine.
It is also important to point out that, just as the previous class A zone protection required it to be the state's and the nation's highest interest for any mining to be permitted, I am sure that, if, by some very unfortunate chance, it is ever in the state's and the nation's highest interest that there be mining at Arkaroola some time in the future, then the new protection being given to the area now would, unfortunately, need to be overturned by the government of the day. By definition, if it is ever in the state's or the nation's highest interest, then the government of the day would have no choice.
I also point out that there is currently uranium mining at the Ranger Mine in the Kakadu National Park and world heritage area in the Northern Territory. It is easy for people to make assumptions about what different, well-known types of protections do or do not offer. Of course, I, and everybody else who supports this bill, hope that it will protect Arkaroola forever. As this house knows, the Liberal opposition supports this bill, and I am very pleased to say that a group of seven other Liberal MPs joined me in a trip to Arkaroola last year to investigate this issue, and I know that trip helped our party come to our position. I was very grateful for the complete assistance of Marg and Doug Sprigg and also of Marathon Resources to have open and frank briefings from each group, both in the field and in indoor meeting presentation format.
I would also like to be sure that all members of this house understand that the Arkaroola protection area provided for by this bill is not exactly the same as the Arkaroola pastoral lease area. It does not cover all of the Arkaroola pastoral lease and also does cover a large part of the adjoining Mount Freeling pastoral lease. I think it is fair to assume that, just as the government did not consult with the parties that I previously mentioned before deciding to make the announcement about the protection, the owners of the Mount Freeling pastoral lease may not have been consulted, either.
While I have not seen the detailed maps necessary to be sure, it appears that as well as Marathon Resources' exploration lease area the Arkaroola Protection Area covers mining exploration licences held by Alliance and Quasar together, and also until very recently by Sturt Exploration.
Importantly, the Arkaroola Protection Area does not cover the actual Beverley, Paralana or Four Mile projects, and I would not support the protection if it did. It is interesting to note that the protection area does cover the freehold land which the Spriggs own adjacent to the pastoral lease land. This is certainly not a problem in this instance, because neither the Spriggs nor anybody else would support mining there, but I am sure that other freehold landowners throughout the state would be interested to know that the government believes it can apply a mining prohibition zone to a piece of freehold land.
Section 7 is clearly one of the most important in this bill and refers to the management plan, a management plan which must be done in conjunction with the NRM Act, the Pastoral Act and the Development Act. I do not expect that the agencies responsible for administering these acts will have trouble coordinating their objectives in this instance, but it may well be far more difficult if this is ever done again without consultation anywhere else in the future, particularly if a pastoral lease is used for pastoral purposes, which is the norm, rather than for tourism and educational purposes, as is the case with the Arkaroola pastoral lease.
Finally, I support the bill but I am disappointed in the way the government has handled this issue over the last several years. It has been exceptionally sloppy. Renewing legal entitlements to explore for minerals then banning mining without notice or consultation has not filled the Australian mining industry with confidence in the government.
I trust that Marathon Resources will receive whatever level of support it deserves from our legal system. More importantly in the context of this bill, I am pleased that the extraordinary Arkaroola area, including the Mount Painter, Mount Gee and Armchair areas; the stunning Freeling Heights; the enticing Mawson Plateau (which I would love to walk through one day); and other areas will be protected for current and future generations to enjoy. I commend the bill to the house.