Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Marathon - a bucket of mullet gut

The Marathon saga continues to be as messy as a bucket of mullet gut.

On August 29 the local Murdoch rag ran a story in its business pages quoting the state government’s Primary Industry and Resources department (PIRSA) as saying that a “mineral exploration licence in the Arkaroola area held by a Marathon Resources subsidiary is expected to be renewed.”

It added that “the extension would not enable the uranium explorer to recommence its drilling program”.

Isn’t the capitalist press wonderful? When workers go on strike, they are “thugs” and “wreckers” and “holding the community to ransom”.

But when the wilderness despoiler Marathon is helped back into the saddle by a compliant government department, the media surrenders its plain speaking demeanour and opts for the vagueness of an “Arkaroola area” (where…inside, alongside, next door to?….ssshhh…don’t mention Mt Gee) and tries to muddy the water with the technicality of a “Marathon subsidiary” (whenever in the past has it been necessary to hide Marathon behind the technical lease-holder Bonanza Gold?)

Maybe the latter is part of an evolving plan to get around the stench that is attached to Marathon’s name by allowing the lease to go to a nominal third party. This is not so fanciful. Bonanza Gold was a collaborator with Goldstream Mining NL until it was restructured several times to become IMX Resources. There is still a liability from whomever gets the Mt Gee lease to pay IMX royalties if anything is ever mined there.

Marathon appears to have structured itself so it can “hive off” EL 3258 (Mt Gee) at a moment’s notice if that becomes convenient. This was one of three measures countenanced in its 2007 Annual Report (alongside, next to getting more capital and/or reducing expenditure).

It would be convenient, for example, if:

1. Marathon can’t get an exploration licence to drill
2. If it can explore, but is denied the right to mine
3. If its directors suffer more public relations disasters (eg if a Queensland-style ICAC was to investigate…unlikely given the SA government’s opposition to an ICAC)
4. If Marathon remains on the nose with the public despite its extensive mea culpas and its elevation of “clean, green” Shad Lynley to the positon of CEO.

So what the hell is going on at the moment?

In an earlier post (Nov 29, 2008) we wrote: “Would it be too cynical to suggest that Chris Schacht and Mike Rann have a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ to the effect that once the clean up of illegally dumped wastes is concluded, Marathon will have its exploration licence restored with ‘close monitoring’ by PIRSA to assuage public concern about further despoliation?”

Looks like that is happening!

And on July 5, 2009, following a Marathon announcement to shareholders that the company had not yet established the limits of uranium deposits inside the Wilderness Sanctuary, we added that the message “is really for members of the SA Labor government, and is intended to talk up the need for more exploration…”

Well, that message has certainly been taken on board, and providing they don’t disturb the surface, they are now assured of being able to continue with aeromagnetic and radio metric surveys.

And why would the government let this happen if they intended to do the right thing and ban mining within the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary?

To ask the question is to answer it.

And how are we going to stop this?

A panel consisting of Arkaroola operator Marg Sprigg, Liberal Party federal Senator Nick Minchin, Liberal Party state parliamentarian Iain Evans, Greens Party state parliamentarian Mark Parnell and Wilderness Society spokesperson Peter Owens discussed this issue at a forum in the SA state parliament today.

Parnell and Evans are to be commended for convening the forum, which was well-attended by the media and by about 30 interested observers.

All stated their firm determination to declare Arkaroola off-limits to mining.

Evans stated “We should simply tell the mining industry…go look elsewhere!”

Minchin who, as Federal Minister for Industry, Science and Resources in the Howard government, approved uranium mining at the nearby, adjacent, alongside (“in the Arkaroola area”) Beverley mine, declared that “as a conservative I believe there are things that deserve to be conserved, that should be off-limits to mining…Arkaroola is one of them”.

Welcome statements all, and potentially part of a broad community movement that will succeed in blocking mining at Arkaroola, but this needs to be taken out of Parliament House and into the community so that a public and visible presence is established that will prevent the SA government moving from its commitment to restoring Marathon’s exploration lease to the further step of allowing them to mine.

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