Legislative Council

GREENS BILL: Prohibiting Mining in Wilderness Sanctuaries

October 17th, 2007

On the 17th of October, Mark introduced a Private Members Bill, National Parks and Wildlife (Mining in Sanctuaries) Amendment Bill 2007, for an act to amend the National Parks and Wildlife Act to prohibit mineral exploration and mining in wilderness sanctuaries.

The Hon. M. PARNELL: This Bill seeks to protect some of the most important environments in South Australia, and they are sanctuaries under the National Parks and Wildlife Act. Sanctuaries under this legislation are a little known but very important part of our conservation estate. Sanctuaries are created by ministerial declaration under section 44 of the National Parks and Wildlife Act. Section 44 provides that, if the minister is of the opinion that it is desirable to conserve the animals or plants for which any land is a natural habitat or environment, then the minister may, by notice in the Gazette, declare the land to be a sanctuary. The pre-conditions for declaration are that either the land is already reserved or dedicated for a public purpose and the person to whom the care, control and management of that land has been committed has consented to the declaration or, if it is privately owned land, then the owner or occupier of the land must consent to the declaration. The protection of animals and plants in the sanctuaries is provided for by section 45 of the act, whereby a person must not take the eggs of an animal or a native plant other than in pursuance of this section. So, sanctuaries provide a level of protection.

My bill seeks to amend the sanctuary provisions of the National Parks and Wildlife Act in two key areas. The first of those areas is that a sanctuary can only be de-proclaimed — or undone, if
you like — by a resolution of both houses of parliament which have been given 14 sitting days' notice. This brings sanctuaries into line with other parts of the conservation estate, such as national parks, conservation parks and, very shortly, given that we passed the bill yesterday, marine parks. At present, the minister can simply revoke the sanctuary declaration at any time.

Also, if the landowner requests revocation, then the minister must revoke the sanctuary status. The problem with the current arrangements is that the wishes of those who seek to protect important habitat can be undone easily by either the minister or future owners, and it may well be that someone who inherits through a deceased estate an area of land subject to a sanctuary might seek to undo that when, clearly, the intention of the parties who first sought and obtained sanctuary status was a level of protection in perpetuity. The principle, stated very simply, when it comes to the conservation state is one of 'easy in and hard out'. In other words, it should be relatively simple to add to the conservation estate. It should be more difficult, but not impossible, to remove such areas.

I now come to the second part of my bill, and there are really only the two operative provisions. The second part is to prohibit mineral exploration and mineral extraction (or mining) in sanctuaries. At present, there is no legal impediment to mining in declared sanctuaries. This situation is at odds with other parts of the conservation estate such as national parks and other reserves under the National Parks and Wildlife Act where mining is not allowed other than in regional reserves or areas subject to joint proclamation.

It will come as no surprise to honourable members that the motivation for my bringing this bill to parliament today is the proposal for uranium mining in the Mount Gee area of the Arkaroola wilderness sanctuary in the northern Flinders Ranges. For those who are not familiar with this area, Arkaroola is 600 kilometres north of Adelaide. It covers an area of 610 square kilometres. The wilderness sanctuary features rugged mountains with towering granite peaks, magnificent gorges, ancient seabeds and life-sustaining waterholes. The sanctuary is home to rare and endangered species, including the yellow-footed rock wallaby and the short-tailed grass wren. Arkaroola has become a leading ecotourism destination, and offers more than a dozen Advanced Ecotourism accredited tours, including the famous Ridgetop Tour that thrills patrons with its four-wheel drive trek through steep and spectacular scenery. The Arkaroola wilderness sanctuary, as members may know, was the winner of the 2005 and 2006 South Australian Tourism Awards for Ecotourism, and also the 2006 award for sustainable tourism. Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary is undoubtedly South Australia's premier eco-tourism destination. What is the proposal that has so concerned conservationists in relation to Arkaroola? The proposal for uranium mining is at the behest of Marathon Resources.

According to its website, Marathon Resources is an exploration company with projects located in South Australia and Victoria; in particular it is interested in copper, gold, base metals and uranium. The company says that its focus is on the Paralana mineral system that includes Mount Gee, which it describes as one of Australia's largest undeveloped uranium deposits. Marathon Resources was listed on the Australian Stock Exchange on 17 March 2005. In terms of the company's plans for this area, it announced in August 2006 an inferred resource of 45.6 million tonnes of uranium 308 at Mount Gee and it undertook a 77-hole drilling program, which it completed in March 2007 and which produced results that give it some hope that it will eventually be able to mine commercially. The company says that it has commenced discussions with both state and federal government departments and that it hopes to be ready to start mining in late 2009.

The Arkaroola sanctuary has a real history in South Australia. Members will be aware of the heritage of the Sprigg family, who have been responsible for that area. The current owners and operators, Margaret and Douglas Sprigg, say on their website that they are deeply disturbed by the Marathon proposal. They say that they do not want a mine of any description on Arkaroola. Their father, prominent South Australian geologist and conservationist Reg Sprigg, purchased Arkaroola in 1967 and, with his wife Griselda, transformed the former sheep station into the multi-award winning wilderness sanctuary that has become an outback tourist destination icon. The Spriggs say — and I agree with them:
"While we are not against mining per se, the thought of the uranium mine right in the heartland of this fragile but spectacular landscape is abhorrent to us."

They note on their website that, because the land is a pastoral lease and only has sanctuary status, they do not see that there are any legal grounds, or that it is difficult for them, to prevent uranium mining. That begs the question: what is the value of sanctuary status if it cannot be used
to preserve these important areas as sanctuaries? That is not the only status this land has. It is also part of Australia's national heritage: Mount Gee is on the Register of the National Estate. It is also a class A conservation environment under South Australia's development system. That begs the question of how we properly manage and protect this area.

One group that has weighed into the debate is the Australian Conservation Foundation, and it has called on the South Australian government, Premier Rann and environment minister Gago to rule out the proposed uranium mine, just as the Premier ruled out uranium exploration and mining proposed by the same company, Marathon, near Myponga on Fleurieu Peninsula in November 2006. I was pleased to go down to Yankalilla and be part of the community meeting there expressing concerns about the prospect of uranium mining on Fleurieu Peninsula. The ACF goes on to say:
"The Premier should equally respect and act on community interest in protecting the high conservation Mount Gee area in the northern Flinders ranges from mining impacts, as he did in recognising and protecting the Fleurieu."

The people down there were very appreciative of the Premier's intervention and they want the Premier to intervene again. The Arkaroola managers, the Spriggs, make the point that this land was set aside by their father, they had hoped, in perpetuity as a sanctuary. The Sprigg family say that through sensitive management by the family they have conserved this unique part of the world for more than 40 years. They say:
"Over four decades our late parents developed this remote sanctuary at huge financial and personal cost. Their life's passion was devoted to conserving a very special part of our land for everyone — Australians and overseas alike. Our parents understood that controlling access and restricting all development, including the road network, to the periphery of the property, was necessary to effectively conserve its rich ecological assets. We deeply respect their vision and their achievement, and we are committed to maintaining Arkaroola's integrity."
That is why this bill is needed: to give genuine protection to not just Arkaroola but to the other sanctuaries that have been declared under the National Parks and Wildlife Act.

At the heart of my bill is the question: is any place in South Australia sacred? Is there any place in South Australia where we are prepared to say that mining is inappropriate? If members want to add some colour and movement to my bill, I suggest they go down to the video library and rent a copy of the Rolf De Heer film The Tracker. That film was made entirely in the Arkaroola sanctuary. That is the area that Marathon Resources wants to mine, the area that my legislation seeks to protect.

For more information see a copy of the Bill

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