Thursday, January 31, 2008

Rann’s Radioactive Dream: Saudi Australia

In 1982, both Chris Schacht, former Federal Labor Minister and recently announced Director of uranium miner and wilderness wrecker Marathon Resources, and Mike Rann, Labor Premier of South Australia, were members of the Nuclear Hazards Committee of the SA branch of the Australian Labor party (ALP).

Schacht was, at the time, also SA State President of the ALP.

And the ALP was, at the time, in Opposition. And faced with a state Liberal government that was pushing ahead with plans to authorize mining, including uranium extraction, at Roxby Downs in the state’s north.

That was the year that Mike Rann, then a Labor staffer, wrote “Play it Safe”, a pamphlet released by the ALP to explain its opposition to uranium mining.

Along with the usual warnings about “serious proliferation risks” and the “the absence of procedures for the storage and disposal of radioactive waste”, Rann stated: “Again and again it has been demonstrated, here and overseas, that when problems over safeguards prove difficult commercial considerations will come first."

These days, Rann has a different view.

Along with Schacht, he was a prime mover behind changes to both his own state’s and federal Labor’s “no new mines” policy on uranium.

Immediately after Labor rescinded its policy, in May of last year, Rann gleefully announced that he would “fast-track 100 applications for uranium exploration licences in the state”.

Those licences would be in addition to the 160 already approved.

Now, a lot of guff is spoken about venture capitalists and the risks they take with innovation, exploration and the seeding of projects. Not a lot is said about their growing welfare dependency – Rann happily subsidises much of the state’s mineral exploration through the Plan for Accelerating Expansion (PACE) program.

On April 17, 2007 Rann, describing uranium as “the fuel of the future”, ascended to the stratosphere of hyperbole with the observation that “we’re not the Texas, we’re the Saudi Arabia of it (uranium) in our state.”

Rann clearly wants to go down in the history books as the sheik of big speak. Last September, he issued a press release on the expansion of BHP Billiton’s uranium and copper mine at Olympic Dam under the heading: “South Australia – Land of the Giants”.

So closely does Rann identify himself with the mining industry that the ALP booklet “Mining Policy”, which has six pages of text, is introduced by a two-page foreword from Rann, and has a full page photo of the Premier on the front. “Mining Policy” is in little print at the top; a capitalized “RANN” followed by “Gets Results” is in much larger print. Talk about a cult of the (does he have one?) personality!

So is Rann completely in bed with the miners?

Well, yes, but he is also sensitive to political realities.

Most of the mines are in relatively remote locations, but that was not the case with our friends Marathon Resources when they issued landholders on the Fleurieu Peninsula with exploration licences in October 2006.

The Fleurieu Peninsula is the southern playground of the good citizens of Adelaide, where most of the state’s votes are concentrated, and is a relatively heavily populated region in the state in its own right.

On that occasion, Rann was quick to declare that there would be “no uranium mine in the area while I am Premier of the state”.

So Marathon withdrew and threw its energy into Arkaroola, SA’s prime wilderness and tourism icon.

Is this why Marathon chief Dr John Santich can so confidently assure prospective investors that the Arkaroola uranium deposit “is ideally situated both in terms of its ore and its development potential…we have essentially the approval of the state government – it’s supported it in every possible way…we don’t see any particular stumbling blocks to its development.”

Was there a nudge-nudge wink-wink deal done here? “Look, you’ll have to pull your heads in on the Fleurieu, but we’ll let you get on with drilling in Arkaroola…and if you can bring on board a big Chinese investor then you can access through them China’s best-practice tunnel technology. If you come into Arkaroola from underneath, then we can say you’re not actually mining in Arkaroola as such…”

Was it a dim memory of such a discussion that led Rann recently to seem so confused about where the Mt Gee mining was going to take place?

Is there any truth still in your 1982 comment about the power of “commercial considerations”, Mike Rann?


Questions that an Independent Commission Against Corruption should be established to ask with all due formality.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Page 5, Weekend Australian, reports that Talbot of Talbot Holdings, influential shareholder in Marathon, is involved in the courts over corruption allegations involving a Queensland Minister.

Anonymous said...

Ken Talbot I think is the main man who is a bit prominent in Qld Coal...reckon a google on him and this last issue might help unravel this mysterious mob...issues of governance on many levels seem to be at cause...mine operators having inside connections to policy makers..they call themselves lobbyists but have paid access to the same people who are supposed to represent us...but we dont have a Diners Club Card and an expense account for political donations. Maybe the Greens could issue a no confidence motion upon the government for contradicting there own commitment to keep lobbyists at arms length from politicians....if ethics is lost in politics its a recipe for a national effectively means we have been hijacked and no one left elected has the guts to stand up and admit what has and is occuring. Anyway, pluto is moving or has moved into Capricorn now so a lot of these systems are disintegrating naturally, but info on blogs like these does accelerate the process..good work, cant wait to go and have a picnic on Mount Gee as that convoy of heavy equipment leaves the Flinders Ranges.

bill said...

notably the exploration program on the fleurieu wasn't actually halted - the responsibility for hunting for it was actually transferred to PIRSA MRD staff, as Rann clearly stated at the time! but the actual content of such press-releases seem to fly over the heads of most of our local 'journalists'...

how this might fit with 'there'll be no mines on the fleurieu while i'm premier' is beyond me, but it's pretty consistent with principles of the whole corporate welfare state we live in! perhaps it's simply that mining can go ahead when foley takes over...

love your work, by the way - do keep it up! only sorry i didn't drop by earlier...

Anonymous said...

Mining companies use distraction techniques all the Fleurieu...the worst case scenario is dropped with a sigh of relief while they move on to their real intention...dont be fooled by their standard tactics....the web is taking over from traditional media and blogs like this are making life tough for corrupt people to continue their dirty work..promoting this sort of corruption as far and wide as possible is in my view the solution...Rudd is very pro China why he is keeping his mouth shut and silencing the bald headed one...our politicians are pretty much a bunch of gutless pricks and its time we take back control of our own lives and communities...goof work mike on this blog!