Marathon Resources appears to have learned nothing from the state government's indefinite suspension of its exploration license at Mt Gee in the Arkaroola Wildlife Sanctuary.
True, in the immediate aftermath it did change the composition of its Board and produce a report, Learning from Waste in the Wilderness, in which it proclaimed a change of heart and a commitment to a new set of environmental and social standards.
These included an acknowledgement that the company had "failed to build sufficient trust with Mr and Ms Sprigg, the owner-operators of the Wilderness Sanctuary...Marathon will seek to build a better relationship with Mr and Ms Sprigg..."
So much for words.
The company announced at the end of January that its clean-up of the sites at which it had illegally dumped waste had been completed. However, the state's primary industries department PIRSA has yet to inspect the site and approve of the clean-up.
Yet Marathon has jumped the gun and served a notice of entry and notice of equipment on the Spriggs. It continues to disrespect them because of their public stand against mining within the Sanctuary. The Spriggs presumably immediately contacted state Greens MP Mark Parnell, who raised the matter in the Legislative Council of the SA Parliament on Thursday Feb 5.
This led to an exchange with Paul Holloway, the Minister responsible for mining, which clearly showed that even he was somewhat peeved with Marathon's "bull at the gate" approach.
The exchange follows:
The Hon. M. PARNELL (14:47): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Mineral Resources Development a question about Marathon Resources.
The Hon. M. PARNELL: In September last year, in response to questions about the clean-up and disposal of radioactive and other waste illegally dumped in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, the minister stated that Marathon Resources' exploration licence continued only because the company 'needs some authority in order to undertake the activities about which we have been talking, that is, the removal of the waste'. When questioned further, the minister said, 'As to the future of the exploration licence, that is something that we will have to await until the clean-up is finished.'
Last week, Marathon Resources released a statement to the Stock Exchange stating that its clean-up was completed on 18 December last year and that all rehabilitation and revegetation works relating to the formal rectification plan were completed early last month, and a report by the independent consultant verifying the work was submitted to PIRSA on 23 January. This morning, the owners of the wilderness sanctuary, Marg and Doug Sprigg, were served by Marathon Resources with a new notice of entry and notice of equipment. Now that the clean-up is complete, it seems that Marathon is preparing to resume its exploration activities once the minimum 21-day notice period expires. My questions of the minister are:
1.Now that the clean-up is complete and the company has served a new notice of entry, when will he make a decision on whether Marathon Resources will be allowed to resume its exploration activities and, in particular, its drilling activities?
2.Has Marathon Resources made a formal reapplication to resume its drilling activities, and has it submitted a new declaration of environmental factors?
3.Considering the high level of public interest in this issue, is there any scope for public comment on whether the company can resume its exploration activities?
The Hon. P. HOLLOWAY (Minister for Mineral Resources Development, Minister for Urban Development and Planning, Minister for Small Business) (14:49): As the honourable member said in his questions, a report was handed to the department on 23 January. The department has not yet signed off on that issue so, as far as the government is concerned, the clean-up of the Mount Gee region and exploration in the Arkaroola area by Marathon is not yet complete, and it will not be complete at least and until the department formally signs off on the work that is being done. I have certainly had no formal application from Marathon, and, certainly, I would not even contemplate one until the process is completed. In any case, I can say to the honourable member that he would be aware that some issues arose in relation to the fluoride (sic!) matter that pointed to some deficiencies within the Mining Act in terms of how these matters might be dealt with.
I will be bringing some amendments into this parliament. Certainly, I would not be contemplating any further activity by Marathon at least and until that legislation was in place, and that might well be some time away. It is certainly news to me that Marathon has served a new notice of entry. As I said, I have no intention whatsoever of approving that, or even considering any approach from it until the matters have been finalised to the satisfaction of the department. I understand that work is completed. I am not questioning that the work may not have been done satisfactorily, but that needs to be certified by the relevant authorities.
In any case, I think that, at the very least, the deficiencies of the Mining Act that were brought to light by Marathon's activities need to be corrected. Then, I think, the government would have to give consideration to the impact of any further exploration and, in particular, any public benefit that would come out of that given the history of this matter. I am not even going to consider that until at least those two preconditions are met, and I expect it would be some time at least before the legislation would be considered by this parliament.
The Hon. M. PARNELL (14:52): As a supplementary question, given the minister's response about his lack of knowledge of the notice of entry having been given, will the minister bring back to the council some advice on the validity of those notices and, in particular, the validity of the 21 day statutory periods under those notices, as well as any advice on whether, if invalid, those notices would have to be reissued at some future date?
The Hon. P. HOLLOWAY (Minister for Mineral Resources Development, Minister for Urban Development and Planning, Minister for Small Business) (14:52): I think that is a reasonable point. I will certainly have that looked at as a matter of urgency.
The "flouride" reference is actually to the rare mineral fluorite, a large crystalline deposit of which was stolen from the Mt Gee area. Marathon admits responsibility for damage done to the deposit by an employee, but denies the involvement of the employee in the theft.
The issue was extensively covered by photographer Bill Doyle on his blog unknownsa last November.
The issue was also featured prominently in Murdoch's daily paper the Advertiser on January 24 under the heading Missing minerals anger. It noted that the crystal was believed to have been sold on the internet. However, there has been no police action subsequent to the theft, and rather incredibly, PIRSA has stated that there are "no penalties under several State Government acts relating to mining and the protection of rare minerals.
Whilst there is obvious potential for the Marathon-Arkaroola issue to serve as a distraction from the grand crimes being committed by BHP-$Billion at Olympic Dam, we must still fight to save Arkaroola from the despoilers at Marathon and to continue to honour the vision of Reg Sprigg and the rights of the Adnyamathanha traditional owners.