Legislative Council

GOVERNMENT BILL: Arkaroola Protection Bill

February 16th, 2012

On the 16th of February, Mark gave a second reading speech strongly in support of the Arkaroola Protection Bill.  He also outlined 2 amendments to strengthen the consultation with the Adnyamathanha traditional owners.

The Hon. M. PARNELL: The Greens welcome this legislation to protect the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary from inappropriate development, including mining. The decision made by the government last year was the right decision, and it was also a decision that was welcomed by the community.

Members are now well aware of the importance of Arkaroola; we have been debating it in this place for the last five years. We all know that Arkaroola is an important habitat for native animals, it has important vegetation, and it is a geological wonderland that is used by students from around the world to study the origins of our planet and the origins of life on our planet.

We know many of the species of plants and animals there are rare and endangered and we also know that we do not actually know everything that is there. In fact, it was as recently as 2010 when the first new species of frog to be identified in South Australia in 45 years was found at Arkaroola. Certainly, from my discussion with the scientists, they know that there is a lot more there yet to be discovered. It is a very important part of South Australia and the Greens are delighted that we are now moving to entrench the commitments that have already been made to protect this area into legislation.

I first raised this matter in state parliament back in 2007. At that point, I introduced the National Parks and Wildlife (Mining in Sanctuaries) Amendment Bill. As members might recall, the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary is a declared sanctuary under the National Parks and Wildlife Act. It is not the most common categorisation of protected area and, certainly, in terms of sanctuaries in South Australia, Arkaroola, by area, represents 60 percent of sanctuaries. That bill failed.

Since 2007, I have raised the protection of Arkaroola in this place dozens and dozens of times. I have introduced stand-alone bills. I have introduced amendments to the Mining Act. I have asked numerous questions, made matters of interest speeches and moved motions for the protection of Arkaroola. As members will recall, just last year on 8 June, a couple of days after World Environment Day, the Legislative Council, in its wisdom, passed a Greens motion calling for Arkaroola to be protected.

I will just remind members that the motion, voted on 8 June 2011, called on the state government 'to urgently guarantee permanent protection for the iconic and majestic mountains of Arkaroola'. Now, people sometimes wonder whether successful motions in the Legislative Council have much of a bearing on the decisions of executive government, but I think by that stage the government realised that there had been enough mucking around and it was time to actually stand up and protect Arkaroola once and for all.

So, I was delighted to personally congratulate and thank the premier. When I say personally, I think by Twitter was the approved format in those days, but I have since spoken to the former premier and I certainly acknowledged that this was the right call for the government to make. So, having been fighting for this protection for five years, the Greens are now delighted that the end of the campaign is now in sight. Whilst it has been a frustrating exercise waiting for the government to do the right thing, we are now almost there. Here is a bill that will enshrine protection.

I also have no doubt that, once we have got this bill through the parliament, the scientific investigations that need to be put in place to investigate Arkaroola better will be done and that we will eventually see a nomination for World Heritage status for Arkaroola. My experience with World Heritage nominations is that some of them are a bit half baked. This one, I think, is the full bottle. I think Arkaroola, on any assessment, is a special place of global significance.

I hope that the state government, in conjunction with the commonwealth government, acts with all haste to meet the next deadline. As I understand it, there is a date in February each year when World Heritage nominations are lodged and I think we should be aiming for February 2013.

I briefly want to mention the issue of the government decision to compensate Marathon Resources for not being able to mine in the Arkaroola area. I make no bones about the fact that I think the government made the wrong call in that regard: 5 million to a cowboy operation. I am not the only person who has used the word 'cowboy'. The former premier used that word as well.

This is a company that is not entitled under law to compensation and, by their behaviour, they do not under any moral test deserve any compensation. I think and the Greens believe that $5 million could be far better spent in so many ways. We can talk about Keith hospital, we can talk about unmet needs in disability, we can talk about education—the list is endless of better ways of spending $5 million than handing it over unnecessarily to an undeserving mining company.

I do need to take this opportunity to mention that the mining minister, the Hon. Tom Koutsantonis, has been fairly loose with the truth when he has debated me and made comments on radio. He seems to delight—and I think that his predecessor did as well—in simply saying, 'Well, those Greens are just anti-mining.' If you say something often enough, no doubt within some sectors of the community it might stick.

This is not about being anti-mining. Protecting Arkaroola is about protecting our important places. As I have said in this place many times before, the vast bulk of South Australia is open for mining. Three-quarters of our national parks, by area, are open for mining. Most of the Aboriginal freehold land is open for mining. There is only a small number of special places that are protected, and Arkaroola is now being added to that list. About 95 per cent of the state is available for mining.

So, protecting Arkaroola does not equate to being anti-mining. If the minister had been a bit more accurate he would have confined his remarks about the Greens to uranium mining. We make no bones about the fact that we do not support uranium mining. In fact, just this week I attended a talk at the University of South Australia by former diplomat Richard Broinowski. The topic of his talk was 'Fukushima and the future of nuclear power'.

Members might be aware of the former diplomat Mr Broinowski's views. He has thoroughly researched this industry over many years, and his assessment is that many countries are now backing away from nuclear energy at a very rapid rate of knots. The connection, of course, between South Australian uranium and the Fukushima disaster is that there is every likelihood—in fact, it is as close to a certainty as you can get—that South Australian uranium is implicated in that nuclear disaster.

We know that the Tokyo Electric Power Company is the biggest buyer of Australian uranium. We know that most Australian uranium comes from Olympic Dam. It comes from South Australia, and therefore we have that direct link to Fukushima. I do not propose to go into it any further than that. If members want to look at my contribution to the Olympic Dam expansion legislation, I put a lot more facts on the table at that point.

The other point that has come out in the debate over the compensation package to Marathon Resources is this idea—it is a fact, in fact—that permission to explore does not equal permission to mine. The government has acknowledged that and yet it still saw fit to offer $5 million to Marathon Resources. There is another way of looking at this whole issue, and that is to have a look at Marathon Resources, their track record and their history, and under any reasonable interpretation you have to say that they have form for making stupid investment decisions. They have form for trying to go into places where on no reasonable assessment are they ever going to be allowed to get away with mining.

The first example, and one some members might be aware of, goes back to 2006, when they were seeking to explore for uranium at Yankalilla, near Myponga. Local residents were up in arms. We are talking about an area about 10 kilometres from the Myponga reservoir, and in the end the premier stepped in and basically said that there would be no mining of uranium while he was premier. In fact, an interesting article at that time (I think it was in the Victor Harbor Times), written by one Amy Brokenshire who, I am reliably informed, is daughter of our honourable colleague. In her article on 5 October, in relation to Marathon Resources she says:

"The company has issued a 'Notice of Entry' to landowners on the Yankalilla side of Myponga but have said their project is purely for research and they do not plan to open a uranium mine."

It goes on and quotes the Chief Executive Officer of the company:

"We are not specifically looking for a mine. We don't expect to find a mine significant enough to be able to develop. The area demands to be looked at because we know mineral resources have been found in the area before."

What do these people take us for? The residents were not fooled. The residents knew that this was not some philanthropic, geological, public-interest exercise on behalf of the company. They were looking for minerals and, if they found them, they wanted to mine them. They did not have any inclination, it seems, that they were up against a massive battle to try to get a uranium mine so close to Adelaide and in one of our prime food producing areas.

It was interesting that former premier Mike Rann's response was that 'his cabinet would never approve a uranium mine anywhere near the Myponga Reservoir'. The quote from the premier's statement was:

"Under Don Dunstan's 1971 Mining Act companies have a legal right to explore, but while I'm premier of the state there will be no uranium mining established anywhere near the Myponga Reservoir."

So, Marathon Resources clearly did not learn from that exercise. It has gone away from the Fleurieu Peninsula and gone up to another area where they must have known that they had Buckley's chance of getting permission to mine. They have gone into one of the most well-loved, iconic outback wilderness areas, the mountains of Arkaroola.

I want to also mention some of the amendments I have foreshadowed—I think they have been tabled, and we will debate them in the next week of sitting, as I understand. Because this piece of legislation is a stand-alone piece of legislation, that makes it all the more important to get it right because of the precedent it sets. One of the things I want to make sure we get right in this legislation is that we provide proper recognition for the Adnyamathanha people, who have responsibility for this part of our state. That is what the Greens' amendments attempt to do.

The words in the legislation are very important, and we need to make sure we get them right. Last week I travelled to Port Augusta to meet some of the Adnyamathanha people. I met with the Anggumathanha Adnyamathanha Elders, a group also known as the Camp Law Mob, to talk about a range of issues, including this legislation before us to protect Arkaroola.

I have to say that it was an absolute privilege to be in a room with such dignified, graceful and wise South Australians. They really do care about Arkaroola. They feel a great sense of responsibility to Arkaroola and, as one of the people said to me, 'We might live in towns, we might shop in supermarkets, but this is our country and we need to look after it'.

I take the opportunity to put on the record my thanks to the Aboriginal people I met: Enice, Vera, William, Cheryl, Vicky, Reg, Wilfred, Ivan, Gil, Linda, Rin, Rhonda, Lil, Martha, Charlie, Lesley and Deidre, as well as Linda and Krystal, for meeting with me and for imparting their deep sense of responsibility and custodianship of their sacred lands.

The Adnyamathanha Elders are scattered throughout South Australia: Port Augusta, Beltana, Quorn, Mallala and Gladstone are some of the places they are now living, but according to the co-ordinator of their group, Aunty Enice Marsh, 'they are all in the same boat when it comes to protecting our land'. The Adnyamathanha people have a long and evolving relationship with the land and they deserve an opportunity to help shape the management of this area into the future.

I should say also that I have had a discussion with Vince Coulthard of the Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association, and we have to acknowledge that that group are the formal native title holders, and they are a key part of any future of Arkaroola as well.

In relation to the camp law mob that I met with last week, these are people who are descended from elders who have all championed and opposed the restriction of mining in the sacred lands of Arkaroola. As they said to me, they were brought up to follow their father's law, and they still follow it. They call it camp law. As one person said to me:

"Our fathers sat us down and said 'no mining at Arkaroola'. The boys were told by their fathers, the grandmothers and mothers as well to their girls—you must protect."

Certainly these Aboriginal people expressed strong concerns about Arkaroola, but they also expressed very strong concerns about the Four Mile mine and Beverley, as well as the activities of Marathon Resources. One person said, 'I can't take my kids anywhere I used to go 'cause there is mining activity everywhere'. Another said, 'I am no longer able to drink water out of the creek'. Another one said, 'We crave for water in our creeks but now it's all polluted'. For these people, the area around Mount Gee is regarded as Anngurla Yarta, which is spiritual land.

One of the people I met, Uncle Gil Coulthard, who has been an important voice in favour of protection, talked with reverence about the importance of Mount Painter near Mount Gee. He said, 'My forefather was born just near Mount Painter'. When we were talking about the potential for mining in different locations, he said:

"You can't break the connection between the land. Once you put a tunnel through one mountain, the spirit is ripped out of it."

I should also mention that these elders have a good and happy connection and a lot of respect for Marg and Doug Sprigg, and that is a reciprocated relationship.

What I seek to do through these amendments is make sure that the minister consults all relevant Aboriginal people. In that way, the chance of things falling through the crack will be reduced and the chance for the best possible management plan will be enhanced.

There are really only two amendments that I have put forward. The second one is to insert the word 'spiritual' into the description of values that are sought to be protected by this legislation and by the ban on mining. The word 'culture' is there, but that is a term that is debatable. You have to have continual practice of your culture in order for it to be recognised. If culture is not continually practised, it can often be challenged, but the spiritual values are enduring, and they continue on. So, I think that is an important recognition. Spirit is inherent, and I think it more appropriately acknowledges the enormous importance of and the deep connection to this region that the elders have.

A number of other issues came out of the meeting which I do not need to go into in detail now. I know that there are concerns about the way native title works. One of the people said:

"I put in for native title because I thought it would protect our rights. Now it is being exploited by mining companies."

I think that is a debate that we have to continue. I also understand now that the Aboriginal Heritage Act is likely to come before us at some stage, and I think that will be an important occasion on which to debate some of these issues as well and make sure that we get the best possible legislation. With those words, the Greens are delighted that we have this legislation before us. It is the culmination of many years of work by many people, and we look forward to the committee stage of the debate.

For more information see Mark's Arkaroola campaign page.

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