Thursday, February 17, 2011

Arkaroola victory imminent

Today’s announcement that South Australian Premier Mike Rann is expected to declare the privately-operated Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary a National Park is a huge victory for the people.

The move will ban mining in the park and put an end once and for all to the environmental despoilers and would-be uranium miners Marathon Resources.

It is a huge victory because Rann had rebadged the Labor Party as “pro-business, pro-mining and pro-growth” and because Marathon had very close ties to Rann and his ministers.

Former Federal Labor Senator Chris Schacht worked with Rann to overturn SA Labor’s opposition to an expansion of uranium mining at a time when few knew that he was a shareholder in Marathon. After the company had its exploration licence suspended by Rann following disclosure of its illegal dumping of waste from its drilling activities, Schacht was elevated to an Executive Director so as to be able to better work his government contacts. Building on the ties to Labor, Marathon appointed another former Labor Senator John Quirke as its registered lobbyist.

Opposition to Marathon’s plans to mine Arkaroola has been steadily building in the community. Shareholder AGMs have been picketed and the Greens had tried in the SA Parliament to pass a bill banning mining at Arkaroola.

Liberal and Labor combined to defeat the Green’s bill.

With opposition growing steadily, the Liberals decided that they would prevent mining in Arkaroola, leaving Rann electorally vulnerable at a time when his government is already on the nose following attacks on unions and public sector workers and services.

Rann compounded his problems by restoring Marathon’s exploration license early in February. The kiddies in the chat rooms loved it. One with the nom-de-plume of “Ohmygod” exulted in the announcement with: “Fabulous news. Licence back and exploration to start up again…Get those drills spinning. Pronto. Find more Uranium and find out about the Rare Earths... This will be a tremendous stock for 2011.”

Another, Patmad, wrote: “Looks like a bit of waste land, nothing to see. Only good for mining and seeing that it holds Australia's third largest uranium deposit, may as well let them mine it. Might have to relocate one or two species if there is anything breathing or living.”

Such are the values of Marathon shareholders!

The two major shareholders in Marathon have been Talbot Group Holdings and China’s CITIC. Talbot Group Holdings belonged to Queensland mining magnate Ken Talbot, who was facing charges of corruption following the jailing of Gordon Nuttall, a former Queensland government minister who had accepted substantial sums of money from Talbot. Unfortunately, Talbot’s death last year in an African plane crash deprived the community of seeing him dealt with by the criminal justice system.

CITIC is a Chinese state investment fund. Despite the friendly gesture of loaning the Adelaide Zoo two pandas, the Chinese were committed to mining in a wildlife sanctuary that is crucial to the survival of arguably Australia’s prettiest wallaby and other rare species including frogs, birds, fish and flora. A public appeal to CITIC’s Australian managing director (and Marathon director) by the President of the SA Branch of the Australia-China Friendship Society to divest from Marathon has gone unheeded.

As for the Talbot Group, one can only speculate as to the nature of the tip-off they may have received to have prompted the sell-off of their 19.9 per cent stake in Marathon to US-based private equity and hedge fund Mount Kellett Capital just three days ago.

Marathon shares, which had once traded at over $6 per share, had been languishing at around 40 cents, but jumped to just over 80 cents following Mount Kellet’s acquisition at around 75 cents.

So to Chris Schacht and the whole stinking mess of Labor crony capitalism, to the Chinese for not respecting the feelings of the Australian people, and to former Goldman Sachs partner Mark McGoldrick and his Mount Kellett capital speculators – sucked in!

Enjoy the ride ‘cos it’s all downhill from here.

It’s our environment and we’ve made our decision.

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