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Immediately after Labor rescinded its policy, in May of last year, Rann gleefully announced that he would “fast-track 100 applications for uranium exploration licences in the state”.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

A Two Kilometre Tunnel – the next big thing? We don’t think so.

Undated web report of Australian Tunneling Society:

Mt Gee - next underground uranium mine in SA
Marathon Resources is moving towards development of an underground mine at its Mt Gee project in South Australia. Marathon said interim results from its scoping study had found a 1000 tonne a year operation at Mt Gee was viable. Chief Dr John Santich said an underground mine appeared to be the best option in the environmentally-sensitive Flinders Ranges. The company is continuing to drill in a bid to improve the economics of its project and expects to release an updated resource in the next few months.

and this from,
Posted 9 August, 2007:

Marathon chief executive, Stuart Hall, told Minesite on the sidelines of a uranium conference in Western Australia, that the current mine plan was to drive into the Mt Gee orebody from outside Arkaroola, thus avoiding any surface disturbance. The exact direction and angle of the drive, which would run for about two kilometres, is yet to be decided because recent drilling is expanding the resource, and finding rich material at greater depth. “The structure appears to be getting richer at depth, so we need to do more work before finalising mine design,” Hall said. Ongoing drilling and environmental data collection is expected to last the rest of 2007, with 2008 taken up with pre-feasibility studies, leading into a full feasibility study in the first half of 2009, and a possible start on construction later that year.

How are they going to do that? The earthworks, tailing and blasting involved will ruin the locality. The area is full of seismic activity with numerous fault zones. There are important dreamtime stories based on these physical expressions, assigned to an ancient serpent, Akuru. Miners are not going to be happy or safe underground.

The Federal Government body Geoscience Australia conducted a field study of the Flinders Ranges region between September 2003 and January 2005 that showed over 500 earthquakes in the region. Many were small tremors, but an earthquake measuring 5.8 was occurred on March 26, 1939; another measuring 5.5 occurred on April 18, 1972; there was a 4.6 earthquake on December 27, 2006 and one of 4.8 on September 17, 2007 (see map, right). Earthquakes of magnitude 2.0 to 2.5 occur every few months around the region. Most are associated with the major Paralana Fault Line that exists because of tectonic plate movement (about 6cm per year) between the Australian and Indian plates.

There are underground “boiling zones” with patches high in radioactivity. Nearby Paralana has Hot Springs with bubbling radon gas and was abandoned for a reason. The Hot Springs are just twenty seven kilometres north of Arkaroola, and originate deep within the earth's crust along a great earth fracture. They are the last vestige of active volcanism in Australia, with near boiling water flowing from the ground.

Marathon has not got the money, or the expertise. The recoverable deposit is not as big as they thought it was. They downgraded it themselves from a 1000 tonnes a year for 13 years to 900 for nine years. Roxby’s moving to 13,000 tonnes.

Marathon’s share price continues to drop (left), and they are on the nose environmentally, so how are they going to raise the money and the permits to bring this minor mine into production?
Note 25 in their annual report said:

Economic dependency
As a junior explorer the Group has only sufficient funds on hand to meet ongoing minimum short term corporate and exploration commitments. As a consequence the Directors are considering the following activities:
- negotiate to farm out the Group’s surplus exploration commitments;
- steps to identify sources of additional capital; and
- reduction in the rate of expenditure.
The Group is economically dependent on the achievement of one or all of the above options.
(Marathon Annual Report, 2007, page 49)

As at 1 July 2007 they had $2,140,972 in cash. (Marathon Annual Report, 2007, page 45)

Director’s fees, now set at a minimum of $300,000 pa, and staff costs will consume most of that. No wonder some were having off site crisis meetings late in January after all sorts of changes were made to company structures.

The Struggle for Venezuela

I'm indebted to a friend who recently visited Venezuela for this copy of his report to a meeting of the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Committee in Adelaide in December. It's a very positive report, which takes into account the circumstances surrounding the loss of the referendum proposal put up by President Chavez. His final four points are spot on in my opinion.

The report follows:

The Struggle for Venezuela

Before I speak about the Venezuela’s proposed Constitutional reforms, I would like to mention briefly my impressions of that country’s efforts in social inclusion and participatory democracy when I visited in Nov and Dec, 2006. The brigade I participated in visited two places where democracy in the workplace and democracy in the neighborhoods had been established. In the town of Moron we visited INVEPAL, a paper manufacturing plant which is run by workers co-management; and in the city of Coro where we met representatives from Communal Councils.

These two visits demonstrated to me that a social system was in the making where the self-development of the worker is central. The goal of the Venezuelan Revolution is for the ordinary people to have an effective say over what is produced, how it is produced and who shall benefit from its use. In achieving a new society, not only is the old social system changed, the people struggling for its transformation are also transformed. Therefore the focus is on unleashing the full development of all human potential, rather than economic growth for the purposes of profit maximization.

At INVEPAL I learned of the struggles by the workers to stop the closure of the plant in 2004; their 8 month confrontation with management to continue manufacturing; building an alliance with Chavez’s Govt. to confront the company; receiving recognition from the National Assembly in 2005 that INVEPAL become a public industry; once under workers co-management, where there is 51% govt delegates & 49% workers delegates, the emphasis changed from capitalist to a cooperative mode of operation; mutual respect was established for all who worked at the plant; a horizontal wage system for everybody; some of the companies profits go back into the community; there is now collaboration with their community so INVEPAL can assist with their needs; and there are various factory committees and worker’s assemblies that argue out problems and issues and then these opinions are taken to the governing council.

In historic Coro we met two representatives who spoke about Communal Councils and Banks. They explained that a new political and social phenomena is not only replacing the old municipal organizations but is the incipient form of state/political power that is becoming popularly entrenched throughout Venezuela. Many communities in the beginning were apathetic, but changing the way people think is a process. Venezuelans lived for 40 years with paternalism, for the lack of community participation had deep-seated roots in the Venezuelan tradition of populism and charity. Now the country is passing from representative democracy to participatory democracy. Communal councils are based on 200 to 400 families in urban areas, or 20 in rural areas, the principal decision making body of a communal council is the citizens’ assembly. All members of the community above the age of 15 can participate in these assemblies, which have the power to elect and revoke community spokespeople to the communal council, as well as put forward projects and development plans for the community. One of the functions of the Communal councils is that of micro finance banks and these were explained to us in detail.

FONDEMI (The Fund for Microfinanced Development) is one of the government’s institutions that provide money to community banks or micro finance banks across the country for them to distribute to their communities in the form of returnable and non-returnable loans. Communal Councils in Coro aim to fund 10 houses in each locality for those most in need through non-returnable loans. Returnable loans are directed at community and socio-productive projects around the $14,000 US figure, with a 6% interest rate and 36 months to pay them off. Usually 5 people are elected as representatives by the local area to run these micro finance banks. However the local people of the community decide who amongst their members needs the loans most. The purpose is to create direct and indirect employment. In Coro this micro financing has created employment for 80 new jobs. Several watchdog committees overseer the success of the loans and that there is financial transparency in the running of the scheme. The 6% interest rate that accrues from these returnable loans is used for the following purposes: 1.5% of rate for maintaining the bank; 3.5% of rate goes to emergency projects e.g. if a member of the community becomes sick; 1% of rate as a safety net for those who can’t pay back the credit borrowed.

So you can see from these brief descriptions that substantial transformation has taken place to achieve participatory democracy which is not only reshaping economic and social organization of the country but also transforming people’s consciousness and behaviour, which is fundamental to achieving what, is called Socialism of the 21st century.

Now the Constitutional reforms! I’ll comment on this in 2 parts. Firstly, examine some of the elements of the proposed reforms and secondly, why the proposed reforms to the constitution lost and what to do about it.

The areas of the constitution I want to comment on are those that especially hasten the achievement of socialism. These are:
· The strengthening of communal councils and their funding;
· Lowering of the workweek to 36 hrs;
· New forms of collective property and deepening socialist economic development;
· Preference be given to national businesses over foreign businesses in economic decisions;
· The elimination of central bank autonomy;
· The armed forces to be reformed into an anti-imperialist army and the reserves to become a peoples’ militia.

These were really of greater concern for the reactionary opposition than Chavez being able to run for unlimited presidential terms. As much as Chavez is the heart and figurehead of Bolivarian and socialist struggle, he is also a convenient whipping horse for the reactionary opposition. They need him as much as he is as useful for revolution. It provides them with the opportunity to accuse him of being a dictator and a megalomaniac bent on taking away peoples’ freedoms, rights and property. It is a convenient method to divert people’s attention away from the democratic nature that the proposed changes would achieve. To some extent this worked.

Let’s look at what these reforms would achieve.

· At least 12 articles about popular power and communal councils were proposed as changes to the Constitution. Alongside municipal, state and national powers is the creation of popular power where power is devolved down to communal/neighborhood levels, which includes the participation of communities in the management of public enterprises. Communal councils are defined as the executive arm of direct citizen assemblies, which elect and can revoke mandates of the communal council members. However, these communal council members are not representatives but are delegates of the community, who are to execute the community’s decisions and not their own vested interests. This reform now also acknowledges the establishment of worker, student, elderly, women etc. councils. This proposed change to constitution establishes direct democracy, which is essential if one of the hallmarks of socialism is to be achieved: That is workers becoming masters of their own destiny!

· Lowering the working week to 36 hrs is an essential measure for workers emancipation. Reducing the working week (from 44 to 36 hrs per week) would give workers more power in relation to employers. Workers rights are strengthened by this reform for it opens up the possibility for increased participation in worker management, through the workers’ councils. Also, it is a start of liberating workers from work and giving them extra time for personal and family pursuits.

· A number of additional epoch changing articles to the constitution identify new forms of collective property and the beginning of the first steps towards socialist economic development. Here the state takes an interventionist role by promoting an economic model, where the interests of the community prevail over individual interests and guarantee the social and material interests of the people. Now the state is no longer obliged to promote and endorse private enterprise. Changes here to the constitution acknowledge 4 new forms of property: Public property, fully owned and managed by the government; Social property, owned by the Venezuelan people and either managed by the government or by local communities; Collective property, owned and managed by groups of individuals; Mixed property, a combination of ownership and management. This formally acknowledges the explosion of worker managed companies, cooperatives and socialist enterprises that have emerged throughout Venezuela. The intention here is for enterprises of social production to eventually drive the economy and overtake production based on enterprises for private profit! PDVSA, Venezuela’s oil company that has bankrolled the social missions and whose oil wealth has been directed at lifting large segments of the population out of poverty would be totally prohibited from privatization of all of its national components. Alongside the protection of PDVSA is the state’s right to reserve the exploitation of natural resources or provisions of services that are considered strategic to the nation. In addition to strengthening the position of the state and workers relative to private capital, the constitutional reform would also have strengthen the position of domestic business over international business because it removes the requirement that foreign companies be treated the same as national companies.

· The reform to eliminate the autonomy of the Central Bank is essential in pushing Venezuela out of the capitalist/imperialist orbit. Presently the central bank is ostensibly independent but in reality is under the neo-liberal influence of international financial institutions. Their purpose, as everyone knows, is to achieve greater capital accumulation for business corporations at the expense of ordinary peoples’ living standards and retarding social development. Historically, central banks maintain high interest rates and adopt policies that overvalue the currency therefore making imports artificially cheap and the country’s exports too expensive. The intention of this constitutional reform is to defend the economic and monetary stability of the country rather than the interests of Multinational Corporations.

· Finally, the changes to the military through the constitution aimed at transforming it into a patriotic, popular and anti-imperialist force at the service of the Venezuelan people and not for an oligarchy or foreign imperial power are significant. In addition the armed reserves are to become a popular militia, establishing closer links and greater integration between the people and the military. This recognizes the inherently political role of the military alongside the development of a broad-based and popular militia structure that offsets the military hierarchy. The armed forces exist to maintain the state. Whilst Venezuela is incrementally moving out of a capitalist social system all its institutions, including the military, are still tainted by capitalist methodology. It is important to acknowledge that the success of the revolutionary struggle in Venezuela was not only brought about by the mobilization of the people but it was also secured by which direction the army decided to point its weapons. How many times have we seen peoples struggles which have majority support destroyed by oppressive military forces. Therefore not only was it the exploitative economic circumstances that politicized the people to win power in Venezuela it needs to be acknowledged that the prior political work of Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement inside the military are just as significant to the defeat of the reactionary oligarchy. The two go together, for without a peoples’ army the people have nothing!

Now what are some of the reasons for loss of the constitutional referendum and how should the struggle proceed from here?

The incessant destabilization plans of the United States to overthrow the Chavez Govt. no doubt had a role in sabotaging and assisting the NO vote for changes to the constitution. Venezuelan counterintelligence unearthed an internal CIA memorandum from the US Embassy in Caracas called “Operation Pliers”. This sinister plan saw the CIA fund an $8 million propaganda and psychological operation whose express purpose was to sow disinformation and cause disruption during the constitutional campaign. This clandestine memo proposed familiar CIA tactics:

· Take to the streets with violent protests
· Contract polling companies to create fraudulent polls
· Generate a climate of instability through the creation of shortages
· Encourage a rebellion inside sections of the military

A similar situation is being experienced in Bolivia where the Morales Government is also attempting to reform their constitution to transform their nation. Here the right wing opposition, with the sponsorship of the US, and no doubt the CIA, are attempting to stymie efforts of the governing party, Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), in presenting a progressive constitution for a referendum to the Bolivian People. Similar to Venezuela, big business interests in Bolivia are threatening to create economic chaos by withholding their produce from the market.

These dirty tactics we have all come to expect from the US Empire and they will continue for some time to come in countries attempting to wrest control of their destinies.

However, the most telling feature of the Venezuelan referendum vote was not so much the ‘No vote’ winning by a slender margin, but that the 2.8 million people who voted for Chavez in the presidential elections abstained in the constitutional reform referendum. The question that needs to be asked is that after 9 years of solid mass movement/electoral support and significant material changes to improve the well being of the poor in Venezuela why has it evaporated so rapidly? This requires close attention. It demonstrates that class struggle ebbs and flows and is not always constant. The state of flux within the struggle points to how well opposing sides have mobilized their positions and forces. A number of commentators have outlined a range of reasons for why the Chavista side lost support and consequently the constitutional referendum.

For example:

· The media, of which most is still private, were scare-mongering during the constitution campaign with lies and slanders (such as Chavez would become president for life; people’s private houses would be taken away by the state)
· The use of false polls to influence the less politically conscious sections of the population.
· The church hysterically ranting that the state would take away children from their parents and abolish freedom of religion.
· Forces within the Chavista camp act as a fifth column and fail to carry out and support the effective campaigning amongst the people. Bureaucrats who attempt to divert people away from the issues of the struggle and focus efforts on developing their own power base abound within the Bolivarian movement.
· Whilst much has been done to alleviate the plight of the poor, the many still live in poverty and homelessness is a major problem in Venezuela. Tiredness has set in with the poor. Endless speeches, demonstrations and elections means little if their economic and social circumstances don’t improve dramatically.
· Baduel’s defection (the past Minister of the Armed Forces who played an instrumental role in rescuing Chavez during the 2002 coup) to the opposition has obviously impacted and sown confusion within the Chavista ranks.

The Bolivarian Movement has been ‘dizzy with success’ for the last 9 years till now. Is the movement guilty of taking the mass support it has for granted and assuming it has support for whatever it does? This hiatus in the struggle for Venezuela calls for sober reflection and points out the fact that the road to liberation and socialism is an uneven and a dialectical process.

I’ll finish by posing some thoughts that today’s gathering might like to consider.

- It is time to clear out opportunists from the movement. Make a clear distinction who is a Chavista and who’s not! The United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) has to complete this task.
- Democracy is not absolute and we need to ask, Democracy for whom? Should the Bolivarian Movement allow the kind of democracy that continues the freedom for Business Corporations to sabotage, to exploit and create poverty? If not the movement needs to stop playing the oligarch’s civic games and start taking away their last vestiges of influence and power now.
- Progress further with socialization of the means of production without seeking legitimacy from the constitution for now and move faster to address people’s material well being, especially housing!
- Finally, further consolidate changes to the army so that it serves the people and is prepared to dispossess the power of the oligarchs and repel foreign intervention.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Marathon:keeping it in the family

Marathon dismissed new CEO Stuart Hall on November 1st 2007. He departed the same day. They put Director Denis Woods in charge of mining Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary at the heritage listed Mt Gee site, kept Wieslaw Bogacz on analysis, and re-assigned ex-CEO Santich to a newly created exploration and new project development Division.

Marathon said
The Company also advised that management of the 100% owned[1] Mt Gee Uranium Project, in South Australia’s Northern Flinders Ranges, would be separated from Marathon’s other exploration projects.

Effective immediately, Mr Denis Wood has been appointed Executive Director in charge of the Mt Gee Uranium Project, while Dr John Santich, a founder of the company and former CEO, will manage exploration and new project generation.

Dr Vic Bogacz will provide exploration and mineral system analysis to both new divisions of the Company. (announcement 1 November 2007)

This means Santich was taken off direct management of mining in Arkaroola, and Denis Woods was put there instead.

Woods was first planted on the board when Talbot holdings and CITIC bought in at a cost of $3,575,000 each. Woods was Director - Resource Development of Talbot Group Holdings, so it’s a fair guess he’s Talbot’s nominee. Chen Zeng went on to represent CITIC’s interest.

This statement, attributed to Hall, might help explain his departure:

Marathon chief executive, Stuart Hall, told Minesite on the sidelines of a uranium conference in Western Australia, that the current mine plan was to drive into the Mt Gee orebody from outside Arkaroola, thus avoiding any surface disturbance. The exact direction and angle of the drive, which would run for about two kilometres, is yet to be decided because recent drilling is expanding the resource, and finding rich material at greater depth. “The structure appears to be getting richer at depth, so we need to do more work before finalising mine design,” Hall said. Ongoing drilling and environmental data collection is expected to last the rest of 2007, with 2008 taken up with pre-feasibility studies, leading into a full feasibility study in the first half of 2009, and a possible start on construction later that year.

From, viewed 31/1/08, 10:19 am.

This was an expensive speculation, personally, and for the portfolio. Basically, they have no idea where to start, surrounded as they by an A class sanctuary with a heritage listed deposit. It would cost a small fortune and take a long time to drive a tunnel that distance and make it big enough to cart out 1,500,000 tonnes of ore a year. Hall’s statement is not entirely unwarranted though because Marathon has at various times sought to mitigate legitimate environmental concerns by referring to underground mining as a way of minimizing disturbance to the sanctuary and the heritage listed Mt Gee.

They will face several major concerns:
- Their track record is abysmal, having obtained an unsavoury public profile when police were called in and photographed taking charge of rubbish, including drill waste, buried in the shallows following exploratory drilling. Who could have tipped them off so soon after Hall’s departure? Surely not the new management. If they can’t manage their rubbish, how can they manage uranium?

- The areas they used to bury the drill tailings, and the area they propose to use for “atmospheric leaching” are subject to severe erosion during downpours. This is an area which has, on average, very low rainfall, so vegetation is scarce. It is also an area which gets the tail end of tropical monsoonal thunderstorms producing spectacular downpours. They arrive in the middle of summer, vegetation is sparse, and the rain is intensive. Over 360mm fell in January 1974, and over 400mm in March 1989. The “conceptual site” to process the ore sits astride two major drylands watercourses. This means that there is a real risk to downstream flora and fauna. Flash floods will not only cut roads, they will carry radioactive ore far and wide. Nothing new in that. That’s how Beverley, out on the flood plain between the ranges and Lake Frome, got the stuff in the first place.

- By contrast, a steady water supply is a problem. The state government has already voiced concern about over use of the artesian basin. Marathon has yet to source the steady supply it needs for processing. Arkaroola itself has a well placed history of concern over scarce water supplies for human consumption.

- The Liberals are planning to introduce legislation to stop mining in the area, partly because water is short.

- ALP policy states:
o (Item) 94. In relation to mining and milling, Labor will:
o prohibit the mining of uranium within national parks under IUCN protected area category 1A, category 1B, and category 2, and listed world heritage areas.

- Mt Gee and several other sites within Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary are listed on the national register.

- 100% owned is misleading. Marathon means its license to explore is owned by them. They only have an exploration lease. They don’t own it. Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary owns the pastoral lease over this area, which means, ultimately, that it’s leased from the Crown. It is subject to a Native Title Claim. Traditional owners and custodians have yet to be consulted about all this.

- There are signs the state government is getting tetchy. Resources Minister Paul Holloway is reported a saying, “He (Holloway) said Marathon Resources had been told repeatedly the government would not permit mining in the Mt Gee Region (Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary) which caused significant disturbance in the sanctuary.” (Advertiser, 29/1/08, page 11.

Unfortunately, both Holloway and Rann still use weasel words like that to leave the door open for mining the heritage listed area.

Rann’s on record as having said,

“Questioned whether he would rule out mining in the sanctuary he replied, ‘There’s an exploration license going on right now and it’s in an area outside the area that people are talking about in terms of a national park, so the answer is no.’” The Australian 21/1/08, page 2.

Not in a national park, and he is not ruling out mining either which means he is ruling it in. A well briefed, and cunningly irrelevant and distracting distinction because it is a sanctuary established under the National Parks and Wildlife Act and it has the highest environmental classification possible under law – class A.

Three ministers have remained remarkably silent over this issue. Federal Minister Garrett has a role to consider proposals to desecrate Class A environments. What’s his position?

State Minister Lomax-Smith, as Minister for Tourism, recognized Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary for the state’s premier tourism award. What is her position?

And, given Marathon’s track record, State Minister Gago as Minister for the Environment would be justified right in signaling her intention to ban mining.

And ban it they should. It is, on the scale of things, an insignificant deposit. Marathon has downgraded its estimates of what might be recovered. New national figures show huge deposits, easier to access, in other locations. The heritage listed Mt Gee contains about 00.37% of Australians indicated and inferred reserves. No point destroying the whole of its heritage to get at it.

Marathon can’t afford it anyway. Marathon is running out of money. Its 2007 Annual Report includes the following note:

NOTE 25 – Economic dependency
As a junior explorer the Group has only sufficient funds on hand to meet ongoing minimum short term corporate and exploration commitments. As a consequence the Directors are considering the following activities:
- negotiate to farm out the Group’s surplus exploration commitments;
- steps to identify sources of additional capital; and
- reduction in the rate of expenditure.
The Group is economically dependent on the achievement of one or all of the above options
.” page 49, Marathon Annual Report 2007

By the time the Director’s take out their fees, Marathon’s in no position to pay for a 2k tunnel. All they will do is put more of who knows whose money after a bad investment in the first place.

Goldstream (2001), CRA (1990 - now Rio Tinto) and Exoil (1970), giants in the industry, let their leases lapse.

So too should Marathon.

[1] This is strictly open to interpretation and in dispute. It is subject to a Native Title Claim, and Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary owns the pastoral lease. Marathon has no more than a license to explore.

"Backwater" debates major uranium issue

Adelaide is a medium-sized Australian city, although we are all reeling at the moment from neighbouring Premier of Victoria, Steve Brumby’s, off-hand assertion that Adelaide is a “backwater”.

To be quite honest, it can be a bit of a village at times, none more so than when the razor sharp team of Matt Abraham and David Bevan rules the morning airwaves on ABC Radio 891.

With ascerbic wit and not a little arrogance, they grill local politicians on parish pump events, and have won media awards for their irreverent radio journalism.

Last Monday, being a national holiday for settler values (Invasion Day celebrates the beginning of the British unsettlement of indigenous societies), Matt and Dave championed the cause of State Liberal Opposition member Duncan McFettridge, who took a swipe at Tour Down Under, describing it as a second class cycling event.

They then spoke to event organizer Mike Turtur, a former champion cyclist, who rather uncharacteristically for the refined citizenry of our fair city, accused them of being “bread and butter journalists” who, like McFettridge, had no understanding of the sport they were denigrating.

In high dudgeon, Bevan squeaked about the duty of journalists, and how they had to ask the important questions of the day for the benefit of the citizenry.

All well and good, I thought, remembering that a later segment in their morning show was “The Two Chrises”, a regular feature during which Liberal Party Federal MP and classic silver spooner Christopher Pyne, and former Australian Labor Party Federal Minister Chris Schacht (“That bloody multi-millionaire,” said a Labor Party staffer to me only the day before!), face off and discuss issues from the viewpoints of their respective parties.

Now, given that Schacht had been named a Director of Arkaroola Wreckers Inc., aka uranium miner Marathon Resources, I thought that here was an issue Matt and Dave would surely go to town on.

After all, if a bike race could spark such venom and occupy so much of the lads’ morning on air, surely the good ALP heavy’s outing as a key player in plans to wreck SA’s premier tourism and wilderness icon would be compelling listening.

So I started listening.

And I listened.

And I waited and listened.

And I started pacing the room and waiting and listening.

Finally, after 23 minutes of drivel between Matt and Dave on the one hand, and C1 (as Schacht is known) and C2 (Pyne) on the other, the great issue was finally broached.

Now, I’ve done a transcript, and it covers a mere few minutes, because that’s all the time such a topic apparently warrants, but note how the intrepid journalistic duo rip into Schacht, how they nail him for his part in changing his party’s “no new (uranium) mines” policy, how they relentlessly confront him with the fragility of Arkaroola’s arid ecosystem, how they destroy him over the survival of the yellow-footed rock wallaby which has been painstakingly nursed back from extinction…..NOT!

Oh well, look at how Pyne daringly seizes the opportunity to support State Liberal Iaian Evans who is putting up a private member’s Bill to stop mining at Arkaroola, and Federal Liberal heavyweight Nick Minchin who has said that he “could not possibly imagine why anyone would ever want to allow mining there…..NOT!

This is a big city’s radio journalism as it’s best:

M: Chris Schacht, we haven’t discussed uranium today, there’ve been a lot of other things bubbling along, but you...have been a lobbyist, yes, and we’ve mentioned that before…

C1: Slurred it

M: ……for Marathon

C1: Yes, for Marathon Resources…

M:…and you’ve now been moved to Business Class, you’re now on the Board…

C1: They invited me in the last… they invited me and I accepted to join the Board of Marathon Resources on Thursday of last week, so as a director of a publicly listed company I accept all the responsibilities under the law of what a director has to do, the fiduciary responsibility and the governance issues…er…about it, and I…

M: Any you’re a little bit squeamish about, at the moment they’re being looked at, and I know there is an enquiry going on about the apparent burial of core samples in a fairly environmentally fragile area…

C1: Well, I’m not, er…the spokesman for the company on that, there is a, the Chairman is the spokesman for the company on this issue, but I’ve just said on the public record that as a Director of the company I will always do everything I can to ensure the company’s activities are always in accordance with all the regulations, State and Federal and local government, and that’s because that’s what I’m required as a Director to do, and…er…it would be stupid of me to do anything else, because then I would be in breach of the Government’s arrangements, so the fact that the issue is being…er…er…Marathon, that issue is being discussed with the Government, they are putting a number of issues to us which are now being thoroughly and absolutely investigated by the company, and…er…it will be publicly announced from time to time in the debate as a public company, and I noticed someone last week suggested on your program that maybe I should retire from being C1…

C2: I think there are some people who’ve being trying to get you off this program since you got on it…

C1: got onto it,..and someone from…so…

M: There’s been a bit of a campaign being

C1: …a bit of a campaign being run…

M: …a subterranean campaign

C1:…a subterranean campaign…

M: But you’ve got so many friends, you do (gently sarcastic)

C1: I do…

C2:..actually that should be Scachty no friends and Payney no friends

M: or maybe its C1 and C2 no friends (laughter all around), there could be a little book in that

C1: I think there might be jealousy on some parts of people because we’ve lasted for four and a half years on this program…

C2: It’s our fifth year…

C1:…our fifth year

M: Oh, I think there’s sometimes fear of opinion…

C1: And the other thing is, even though Chris is a bit more constrained because he’s a sitting Liberal member, I’m not constrained as much because although I’m a member of the Labor Party and I always want the Labor Party to win, I can from time to time own up and say I think the Labor Party could have done better on that issue and I know that may upset some people in the Labor Party, but I think if you’re automatically a propagandist …

C2: While you are being so non-partisan, could you stop campaigning against me in my seat on election day (general laughter)…that would be really good

C1: Well, that was…well Lea was such an outstanding...

C2: Now I know I’m your only friend…(laughter from Matt)

C1 : …that was…now by the way…

C2: …I’m surprised to know you were campaigning so hard against me

C1:…do you know that you areI think now in the one per cent range of marginal seats…

C2: I know exactly where I am…(Matt laughing)

C1;…er for the next election…

C2: Don’t you worry about that

C1: don’t you worry about that…

C2: I’m keeping a very close eye on that

C1: But thank you for the opportunity to declare that interest

D: Well, that’s just what we do

C1: …and that’s absolutely correct and I again say I support what Rudd has announced

D: Well you’ve now got Nick Minchin on, he’s opposed to you.

C1: Nick Minchin’s campaigning against the Marathon Resources up in the Flinders Ranges which is a bit bemusing in a way, because where Nick has been,

D: So maybe Chris Pyne…

C1:…so maybe Chris Pyne will support me because it’s just a factional brawl that they’re going to have, but just want to say I support what Rudd has announced about having a public register of lobbyists, or whatever you want to call it, at the federal level…

M: …and we’re waiting for the one here…

C1: …and I support it at the State level. By the way, I don’t spend much of my time as a lobbyist, but there are a couple of jobs I’ve done…

M: Well, you’re wearing a Volleyball Australia t-shirt

C1:.. not your proper organization…

C2 Aren’t we still waiting for our anti-corruption commission here as well?

C1: By the way, the 25th to the 30th March, don’t forget once of the biggest international sporting events will be at Glenelg Beach, the international volleyball competition……….

Monday, January 28, 2008

Mining Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary – putting it in perspective

(Above: ruling class aesthetics. A carefully composed shot of exploration ore samples in front of Mt Gee. For real aesthetics, go to )

Ever since it started, Marathon Resources has been talking up the “highly prospective” Mt Gee deposit in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, (above) as though it was the next big thing. In terms of Arkaroola, it is. It’s huge. It threatens to destroy it. But it’s miniscule, microscopic even when it is compared with the production planned from known reserves.

Marathon talks of recovering perhaps 900 tonnes of U3O8 by mining, carting and dumping, then leaching a massive 1,500,000 tonnes of low grade ore each year for maybe 9 years.

Put it in perspective. Australia’s three mines currently produce more than ten times that amount. They produce about 10,000 tonnes of U3O8 per annum from more than 15,000,000 tonnes of ore, most of it from just two, Ranger and Olympic Dam. Olympic Dam plans an expansion which will achieve up to 13,000 tonnes pa. Now that is big, it puts Marathon into minnowhood, but it's nothing compared with what is in WA and Qld. Or Kazakhstan for that matter. The difference is that Qld and WA stopped uranium mining. All it takes is for that to change. We know how fickle government can be. WA Inc could alter production plans in the wink of an eye. So could SA Inc.

Together, Ranger and Olympic Dam make up about 70% of known ore deposits. Best guesses about the other 30%, and that is what they are, guesses, indicate that the remaining 30% is spread around more than 30 sites, one of which is Mt Gee in the heart of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary. The Mt Gee deposit is not strictly “proven” – it’s a guess. It’s an “indicated” and, mostly, “inferred” resource which is nothing on the scale of things.

Taken together, these figures mean that, at its absolute best, Marathon could perhaps extract up to 3 or 4% of Australia’s planned production by exploiting less than 2% of Australia’s ore deposits and ruining all of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary at Mt Gee.

It will have to extract millions of litres of as yet unidentified but notably precious arid lands water. Their own site plans show they want to do that on top of two major dry land watercourses with who knows what destructive downstream impact on precious flora and fauna. There’s the real risk flash floods will rip through the site, spreading radioactive material far and wide.

The history of this project makes intriguing reading using material sourced mainly from Marathon’s own web site.

Three out of five inaugural directors, including the inaugural CEO, now managing executive director, were linked to former SA Labor Premier Don Dunstan’s old law firm, Lynch Meyer.

Minister Holloway opened Marathon's Port Road offices(see right) on 20 July 2007. What briefings were prepared, by whom, using material sourced from where? Who briefed the Minister, and whose material was used in the briefing? Did anyone refer to Marathon Resources P/L material in preparing the briefing? If so, who and what? Did Marathon supply, or cause to be supplied, any information, if so, to who, how, and what was it?

Premier Rann has been careful to make the same artificial distinctions between a National Park and a sanctuary as Marathon’s CEO did recently in a power point presentation. Who briefed the Premier, and whose material was used in the briefing? Did anyone refer to Marathon Resources P/L material in preparing the briefing? If so, who and what? Did Marathon supply, or cause to be supplied, any information, if so, to who, how, and what was it?

Chris Schacht, a prime mover in changing SA’s uranium policy joined the board 24 January, as a $300,000 pa non-Executive member, declaring a long held shareholding interest in Marathon Resources. What records of meetings are there between lobbyists and others acting in Marathon’s interests and the government or its officials?

Out of more than 2,400 shareholders, one of the top twenty is now an “undisclosed” shareholder.
Is Marathon listed as a donor, and has it made donations directly or indirectly to any political party?

Why did the Marathon CEO report on 12 March 2007 that “we have essentially the approval of the state government – it’s supported it in every possible way.” Upon what basis was the claim made? Who in, and exactly how did, government provide support and encouragement? What communication and by whom contributed to this observation?

Who has been trading, when, and with what connections to the company, associated companies, and the ALP? Who in or associated with government holds, or has held shares in this company?

The company says on its website: “We have commenced discussions with both State and Federal government departments responsible for mining approvals regarding the necessary permitting process we will need to undertake in preparation for mining Mt Gee. We hope to formally initiate the process shortly. “ (, viewed 28/1/08)

Which officers are involved, what are the details, and what is the timeline for the process to be initiated? Will the Ministers involved declare when it has started, and when it is open for public comment?

What other links are there between government, government officials, and this company with its advocates/lobbyists?

What correspondence, briefings, meetings, emails and other communications have there been between government, government officials and Marathon or its advocates and lobbyists?

Why was CITIC’s representative Chen Zeng left off the most recent list of Directors? CITIC, the investment arm of the Chinese government, has been a major stakeholder.

Why was a new CEO appointed in April?

The potential for intrigue is mind boggling.

The company’s own site reveals some remarkable rises and falls in the stock price; and in the volumes of shares traded.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if some of those trades represented the SA equivalent of WA Inc.

And, or perhaps, some very clever market maneuvering and profit taking from a highly prospective but essentially doomed adventure holding a precious, high profile sanctuary to ransom. Rann could look good banning it, and there’d still be a profit made, by some.

Size of Olympic Dam expansion taken from
The major part of the uranium - about 13,000 t/yr,

File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat - View as HTMLStuart Hall was appointed to the position of Marathon Resources CEO in April 2007. He is a mining executive with 30 years experience -
Who paid?

IF the government is clean, then it must signal its intention to stop mining in this area by:

- Cancelling the exploration license.
- Releasing the full report on rubbish dumped.
-Passing legislation to protect the area from mining in perpetuity.
- Conducting a complete and open inquiry into the activities of Marathon Resources and its associates.
- Releasing the documents it does have related to Marathon Resources and its activities.

No mine. No more desecration of a declared sanctuary. No exploration.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Opposition to Arkaroola mine growing

Opposition to Marathon's proposal to mine uranium at Arkaroola is building.

SA Greens MLC Mark Parnell has made a statement opposing the venture. See here.

Parnell has also accused the State government of covering up the details of a major security breach at the Olympic Dam mine in April last year in which 10 300g jars of uranium yellowcake samples were stolen.

A largely censored report obtained by the Greens under FOI legislation says that the matter has been filed and that no further action will be taken.

"It is simply not good enough for reports to be buried, especially when it involves the uranium industry," said Parnell.

Speaking of the report into Marathon's burial of waste at Mt Gee by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) and Primary Industries and Resources SA (PIRSA), Parnell stated that "This time the truth must not be buried with the plastic bags."

The SA Wilderness Society has also joined the opposition to the Mt Gee proposal. For details see their website .

But whatever you do, don't miss photographer Bill Doyle's brilliant blog on Arkaroola here . He has heaps of information and some great photos of the region.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Marathon uranium miners are clever strategists

A report in today’s Australian (p. 6) confirms that former Federal Labor minister Chris Schacht has been a shareholder of Marathon all along. Schacht says he has been a “small retail shareholder” and “aware of the company since the beginning”.

No wonder he lobbied so hard against the State Labor government’s “no new mines” policy!

The stench of crony capitalism hangs all over this mob.

According to the report, Schacht “hoped to use his contacts to benefit the company”.

Such altruism!

WA Inc. may end up having had nothing on SA Inc.

No wonder State Premier Rann and his Cabinet have fought against the creation of an Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Well, we need one now.

Apart from anything else, it would be good to know who Schacht has lobbied, when, and in what capacity. And what connections, if any, exist between PIRSA and Marathon personnel.

Marathon Resources are very clever strategists.

Not only in recruiting Chis Schacht, but they also have a (John) Neil Andrews, ex Speaker House of Reps, ex MP Wakefield, chairing a “North Flinders Community Consultation Council” which is sure to confuse almost everybody into thinking it is the council in place of:

The regional Natural Resource Management Council and
The regional Community Council.

The make-up of this group is also very interesting, and is supposed to include local landholders and Aboriginal representatives. Details of who is actually on it, and how they got there, cannot be established at this time. Two people, however, are there at the direct invitation of Marathon – Bill McIntosh and the chair, Neil Andrew. Fees are not mentioned.

I cannot find any minutes of meeting, but I can find a mention in the Arid Lands Natural Resource Management Board by its member, Bill McIntosh, AM, who features in another place as meeting with McGuaran to discuss arid lands issues.

There is a declaration (not published) of a financial interests requirement for this Board. Be interesting to see what it says re Bill.

Elsewhere, in company annual reports, references are made to consultancy and communications payments of $170,000+ and $100,000 plus in recent times. Recipients?

Directors’ remuneration also makes fascinating reading in the company’s annual reports. Couple of staff get nice payments as “consultant companies”; and hold huge share options. It’s certainly in their interests to talk this up.

A trace of linkages to PIRSA also emerges in the early days (2005) of Marathon’s reports.

There is a Wilderness Advisory Committee which could report on this to Minister Gago, but has not even scheduled consideration as far as can be determined from published proceedings.

The two Executive Directors, Dr J.R. Santich and Dr W. Bogacz, are directors of Archon Pty Ltd and Archon Technologies Pty Ltd respectively. Both companies provided services to Marathon Resources Limited in connection with the provision by them of Executive Directors to the Company and were paid $223,840 and $257,952 respectively, in this egard ($40,875 each covering the period 1 April to 30 June 2006).

John Santich, CEO, lives on Sheoak Road, Belair, and holds his Marathon company shares in Sheoak Runner Pty Ltd; Wieslaw Bogacz has shares in his own name, as well as in that of Archon Resource Technologies Pty Ltd.
Two directors are lawyers with Lynch Meyer.

Various documents indicate water will be a problem, as will transport out for the preferred dump site, just off the edge of East Painter gorge. Others indicate the resource as being of higher grades than thought by Exoil, previous explorer, with more of it, and at depths ranging from just below the surface to around 600m below. Valuable rare earths and copper accompany the deposit. Marathon has sole control of about nine other interests, and holdings in other ventures controlled by other companies. It spends about 75% of its money and presumably, effort, on Mt Gee which has been its jewel in reporting to the stock market via the ASX.

It was well cashed up when Talbot Resources and CITIC bought in in 2006/07.

A report by Deustch Bank in 2006, presumably based on Marathon information, highlights increasing demand for supply and rising prices as the fossil fuel energy supply dries up. Eg, the amount of electricity produced by nuclear generation is about 19% of demand currently, with 400 plants world wide. An extra 300 plus are to come on stream in the next 5 years. Switkowki’s report, commissioned by the Howard government, undoubtedly paves the way for development and expansion.

Larger resources exist, and are more easily accessible, in WA, Qld and the NT – but state government policy and, in the NT, traditional owner opposition, stalled development. Companies are no doubt looking forward to a change of policy or government. In the meantime, this leaves SA with its sympathetic policies and an active PIRSA in the box seat to capitalise on the development of deposits containing U3O8.

In reality, the race is on to capture the market with the quickest, most accessible supplies of U3O8 (yellow cake). At various times Marathon of mining about 1,500,000 tonnes of ore for from 9 to 13 years, recovering between 900 and 1000 tonnes of U3O8, which puts a value of $200m pa on the venture. Their current investment amounts to something less than $8m, and the Tunnel Mining Association reports that it looks forward to this as a next big venture. Dollar costs to recover the U3O8 have not yet been estimated, but elsewhere deposits like this cost about $17/lb of U3O8 to recover. Current market price is $US86/lb.

Access: There are two ways in. One, is via Arkaroola and the famed Ridge Top Tour. The other - Exoil ripped (and ripped is the operative word) a track through East Painter gorge to Mt Gee in the late 50’s, and it has the advantage to Marathon of starting on the plains about 5 kms east of Mt Gee – quicker, flatter, more direct, and on the way to Beverley. It has been washed out in places, and is quite steep, but that is as nothing to a mining company.

Various documents show the area is pinholed with test bores – over 30km of drilling has occurred in the immediate area, and more is to take place. The impact must by now be quite severe and worthy of inspection.

Oh, and congratulations to the shareholders. After a loss yesterday of 11 cents, today’s rise, following on from the announcement about Schacht, was 14 cents.

It’s good to know what you’re worth, Chris.


Recommended website: Wilderness Society (SA) with link to Arkaroola newsletter:

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Marathon brings in heavies to help spoil Arkaroola

Still reeling from the public disclosure of its shabby attempt to bury ore samples and workers’ domestic waste in shallow pits in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, Marathon Resources has sought to gird its loins with two high profile appointments.

A couple of days ago, W. Ian McRae was appointed as Project Executive with a briefing to expedite the granting of a licence for the company to mine uranium at Mt Gee, Arkaroola.

McRae has a high profile in mining circles. In the 1980’s and 90s he was General Manager, Operations, for the Pilbara operations of the Robe River Mining Company.

Robe River Mining was the company that provoked a huge industrial dispute in 1986 when it attempted to remove over 200 “restrictive” work practices from its workforce. The Robe River dispute was a clarion call for the most reactionary sections of the ruling class to declare war on the working conditions of Australian workers, culminating in the Howard government’s WorkChoices legislation.

It is not yet known what part McRae may have played in this, possibly none, but it is indicative of a management outlook that defines “tough” as the ability to ride roughshod over the rights of others, an outlook that must invariably have had some effect on a person in the position of general manager for Operations.

But today’s announcement is the icing on the (yellow) cake!

No less a person than “The Honourable Chris Schacht” - a former Labor Federal Government Minister – has been appointed to the Marathon Board.

Schacht was a force behind the change of State Labor’s “no new mines” policy to its present pro-uranium mining position.

He has made no secret of the fact that he has held shares in uranium exploration, even as he argued for a change in the ALP’s policy.

He is also held in high esteem by local Chinese businessmen and by officials of the Chinese Embassy in Canberra and was invited last year to advise the newly-formed “South Australian Society for the Peaceful Reunification of China” in a dinner attended by Embassy officials.

Nearly all of the other advisors were leaders or officials of Chinese community organisations and businesses.

Schacht’s appointment positions him as a key conduit between the State Labor government and a major investor in Marathon, China’s state-owned China International Trade and Investment Corporation (CITIC).

For every gain made by the restorationists (those pushing the full-scale restoration of capitalism) in China, so China moves inexorably in the direction of becoming an imperialist power abroad. This means sharing in the despicable features of other superpowers: interfering in, bullying, and controlling other sovereign nations.

The stakes are high for Marathon and its major shareholders, the top twenty of whom are listed below:

Top twenty holders of ordinary shares (as at 21 December 2007)
Shareholder Name
% of Issued Capital

No matter what heavies Marathon might place on its board, none carry the weight of the Australian people.

Already an alliance of sorts if emerging around the defence of Arkaroola.

No uranium mining at Mt Gee!


See also Sydney Indymedia report:

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Kick Marathon Out Of Arkaroola!

Last September, I put up a post (here) calling attention to the threat of Marathon Resources’ proposed uranium mining in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary.

On 18 December, 2007, Marathon piously announced that it was commissioning an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on its proposed mine.

The EIS described as “a crucial component to the future of our project”.

“Environmental issues that form part of the EIS (estimated to take up to 18 months to complete) include groundwater impacts, surface water management, flora and fauna, Aboriginal heritage management, air and noise quality, and land use impacts.”

While it was saying one thing to the public about the “crucial component” of an EIS, in private, away in the remoteness of the wilderness sanctuary, Marathon was burying hundreds, and possibly thousands, of plastic bags containing drill tailings (ore samples) and rubbish from workers at the site, in shallow pits in contravention of its exploration licence.

Ironically, some of these bags can be seen in a promotional video (here) on the Investor TV website, between 1:45 and 1:47.

In the video, Marathon CEO Dr John Santich extols the virtues of the Mt Gee project, and in a spiel directed specifically at potential shareholding investors, makes the incredible claim that “we have essentially the approval of the state government – it’s supported it in every possible way.”

So here is a company that has not yet even made a formal application for a licence to mine, pre-empting a decision of the State government. It would be interesting to know just who in the State government has given the nod for this sort of outrageous comment to be made, because on the face of it, it is saying that parliament is just a fig-leaf, a fa├žade, behind which a nudge-nudge-wink-wink brand of crony capitalism is taking place.

The latter may not be not too harsh an observation - even the bourgeois media has been somewhat surprised at the State government’s response to Marathon’s environmental vandalism.

Mike Smithson, in Murdoch’s Sunday Mail (Jan 20, 2008) said of SA Attorney-General Michael Atkinson’s response to the issue that “he didn’t want to be drawn into making adverse comment about the company…(he) tried to be diplomatic in dealing with the issue. He was probably much keener to see it go away without causing too much collateral damage.”

Smithson clearly regarded the State government’s “tut-tutting” about Marathon’s environmental despoliation as incredibly weak stuff and said that “it mustn’t be so placid and understanding next time around.”

John Wiseman, in next day’s Australian, quite incredibly quoted State Premier Rann as denying that uranium exploration was happening in the Arkaroola sanctuary, saying it was “in an area nearby”.

Mt Gee is not “in an area nearby”, although the sanctuary does abut the Gammon Ranges National Park which is managed by the Adnyamathanha people, the traditional owners of the area around the Northern Flinders Ranges which incorporates both the Park and the sanctuary.

Just what Rann had been smoking was anyone’s guess, for his next comment was totally confusing.

Questioned whether he would rule out mining in the sanctuary, he replied: “There’s an exploration licence going on right now and it’s in an area outside the area that people are talking about in terms of a national park, so the answer is no.”

So it’s “outside the sanctuary” and “outside a national park”? What does that mean when it’s clearly within the sanctuary, which is privately owned?

Rann’s and Atkinson’s priorities were to avoid “adverse comment” about the company because they want a cosy relationship with the mining industry.

In fact, they are in the process of cultivating just such a relationship with core elements of the ruling class, inviting “the corporate world to join SA Progressive Business….(which) provides a unique opportunity for business to meet with Labor leaders who are pro-business, pro-mining, and pro-growth.”

Foundation membership of $10,000 entitles the corporate member to events including Breakfast Ministerial briefings and Twilight Ministerial Briefings, reserved tickets for major government functions and corporate recognition at such functions.

No wonder some call the ALP (Australian Labor Party) the Alternative Liberal Party!

The conditions exist for the widest possible unity between friends of the Arkaroola sanctuary, environmentalists, anti-nuclear activists, the Adnyamathanha people and unions so as to isolate the State government and Marathon, and protect the Northern Flinders Ranges and Arkaroola.

We need a call to the streets over this issue!

(Mt Gee scenery, left, including the rare yellow-footed rock wallaby).

Sanctuary Owners Appeal:
Do you Think that Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary is an Appropriate Place for a Uranium Mine?

We don't......!

In fact, we don't want a mine - of any description - on Arkaroola.

A uranium mine here would be a total contradiction ofthe principles of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary. It undermines the 40 years of conservation work conducted by our parents to protect over 600 square kilometres of this wild and beautiful arid mountain range country.

Arkaroola is a major South Australian biodiversity asset: the property contains a number of threatened species; plants, birds and even fish. There are 35 colonies of Yellow-footed Rock-wallabies, and in 1981 our father, Dr Reg Sprigg, placed 70 square km of prime wallaby habitat on the National Estate Register to assist in their protection.

Arkaroola contains a number of Geological Monuments, including Mount Gee (the site of the uranium deposit and planned mine).

The property is a sanctuary under the National Parks and Wildlife Act. Funds raised from tourism activities are put back into the environment in various ways, such as weed and feral animal control. Arkaroola was a pastoral property for only a short time, and the regeneration of mulga here is the most significant in the Flinders Ranges.

In 2005, Arkaroola was identified to be of international significance by Andrew Ingles of the World Conservation Union.

It is our philosophy that through the principles of Ecotourism we are not only able to help protect and conserve this unique environment, but make it accessible to you to enjoy in a way that inspires inquiry; a thirst to understand more about the interconnectiveness of its fabulous geology, flora and fauna - that makes Arkaroola what it is!

You, our visitors and friends, can help us save Arkaroola from the threat of mining. If you would like to assist please click here to download a copy of this letter and please write to any or all of the State and Federal politicians listed below, including the State Premier.

With grateful thanks - Marg and Doug Sprigg.

Download Arkaroola's Media Release issued 21 September 2007.

Breaking News: Arkaroola is proud and excited with our latest success in the S.A. Tourism Awards, winning Ecotourism (third successive award - and inclusion in the coveted Hall of Fame), Sustainable Tourism (second successive year), and recognition for the second time in three years as South Australia's Major Tourist Attraction. The very idea of mining in this unique and pristine wilderness is in total conflict with everything that Arkaroola stands for, and has achieved over the past four decades. Surely some places have to be off limits to mining exploitation! (Click here for further information regarding our recent awards).
Please help us save Arkaroola for your children!

Click here for further information about the proposed uranium mining site at Mount Gee, the heartland of Arkaroola.

What the Media is Saying About Mining on Arkaroola:
Mike Smithson, Political Reporter for the Sunday Mail, has written an interesting article about the allegedly illegal dumping of hundreds of drill sample bags in two shallow pits on the Mount Gee exploration site of Marathon Resources, Pty Ltd. This area is the heartland of Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary.
Please click here to see Mike's report, published on 20 January 2008 - which has been reproduced with the kind permission of the Sunday Mail.

State Politicians:
The Premier of South Australia,The Hon. Mike Rann MPPO Box 2343, Adelaide SA 5001Email:
The Minister for Mineral Resources Development,The Hon. Paul Holloway, MPGPO Box 2832, Adelaide SA 5001Email:
The Minister for Environment and Conservation,The Hon. Gail Gago MLCGPO Box 1047, Adelaide, SA 5001Email:
The Minister for Tourism,The Hon. Jane Lomax-Smith, MPGPO Box 778, Adelaide, SA 5001Email:
The Hon. Nicholas Xenophon, MLCGPO Box 572, Adelaide SA 5001Email:

Federal Politicians:
Prime Minister,The Hon. Kevin Rudd MPTelphone (02) 6277 7700PO Box 6022, House of Representatives,Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600
Minister for the Environment , Heritage and Arts,The Hon. Peter Garrett MPPO Box 6022, House of Representatives,Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600Email:
Minister for Climate Change and WaterThe Hon. Penny WongPO Box 6237, Halifax Street Adelaide SA 5000 Email: Online contact form at
Minister for Tourism,The Hon Martin Ferguson AM MPPO Box 6022, House of Representatives,Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600Email:
Leader of the Opposition,The Hon Dr Brendan Nelson MPPO Box 6022, House of Representatives,Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600Senator for Tasmania,Senator Bob Brown,Level 1, Murray Street Pier,Murray Street, Hobart Tas 7000Email:
Shadow Minister for TourismSenator the Hon David Johnston183 Great Eastern Highway Belmont WA 6104
Shadow Minister for The EnvironmentThe Hon Greg Hunt MPPO Box 274Hastings Vic 3915 Email:

Please save this web page in your Favourites Folder as information will be updated as it comes to hand on a regular basis.

Please help us protect Arkaroola.

(Above: Environmental destruction at Mt Gee in 1970 after more than 100 exploration holes were drilled in an earlier period of exploration for uranium.)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Labor softens on NT intervention

ABC News has released a report today under the heading Macklin to make 'minor changes' to NT intervention.

Jenny Macklin is the Indigenous Affairs Minister in the new Federal Labor Government in Australia. The NT intervention was the contemptible attempt by the previous Government to roll back Aboriginal Land Rights in the Northern Territory under the guise of an emergency response to the abuse of Aboriginal children.

The ABC reports Macklin as saying that the new Labor Government “supports the intervention, but with some minor changes.”

"The number one issue that we've indicated since we were elected that we wanted to add to the intervention is really to bring Indigenous people in the Northern Territory into the process," she said.

“Being brought into the process” sounds suspiciously like being asked whether you’d prefer a bullet or the guillotine.

Aboriginal communities have demanded genuine consultation about the problem of child abuse, and will not be satisfied with “minor changes” that allow the main thrust of the attack on their land rights to stand.

Macklin anticipates a wave of criticism from Aboriginal communities for caving into the pressure of the giant mining and pastoral interests whose interests were really served by the intervention.

She said, "I emphasised to the taskforce that my whole approach in Indigenous affairs will be that based on evidence," she said.

"I'm not interested in ideology, I'm interested in what works."

Fine, but the question is works for whom?

For the people in the remote communities and the abused children, or for the giant mining and pastoral interests who want unfettered access to Aboriginal land?

And since Macklin wants evidence, how about listening to the likes of Rachel Willika of Eva Valley community, whose heartrending account of the effect of quarantining welfare payments is reproduced below. Would Macklin have enjoyed Christmas with her family under such paternalistic and semi-fascist restrictions as those now imposed on Willika and other Aboriginal persons in the NT?


Christmas spirit in the Northern Territory
By Rachel Willika (first left in photo)
15th December, 2008

The children at Eva Valley community had no Christmas presents this year. No Santa Claus, no decorations, no Christmas spirit, nothing.

Christmas Day, we had lunch at the Women's Centre. The Fred Hollows Foundation provided and paid for all the food. It was good food. We had salad, ham, turkey, prawns, Christmas cake, chips, lollies for the children.

We all helped with getting that food ready.It was a quick lunch because a family member had passed away.I don't know why there were no presents this year. In other years, we've had presents. Someone helps us-a local organisation, or someone. But we had no presents this year.

We couldn't buy presents ourselves because that quarantining has come in. We got that store card just before Christmas. That store card is just for Woolworths, Big W, and Caltex. There is no Big W in Katherine, only Target, so we couldn't buy toys. Only little toys that are in Woolworths.We could only buy food with that store card. What about presents, and Christmas decorations and streamers, and stuff like that? Those things are important, too.

You can't choose where to spend your store card. You can only spend it at those places that they say. Woolworths, Big W, Caltex. There's pictures showing on the card. Woolworths, Big W, Caltex.

I got my Target card on January 3. My friend and I were walking around Eva Valley yesterday and we said 'No-one's been listening to us. Nothing has changed'. We've told those intervention people about our worries, but nothing has changed. We want our voices to be heard.

We want a store up and running at Eva Valley, so we don't have to get a taxi to Katherine to buy food. The community bus is broken down and the taxi costs $220 in and $220 back. When we go to town some of us share the cost of that taxi, but it is a lot of money, even when you share the cost.Last Thursday I went to town to get my store card, to buy food. When I went to that Centrelink there was a sign 'There are no store cards in the Katherine office until 1pm today.' Centrelink was running out of store cards. They could only give me a store card for $50 to buy food, and one for $200 for clothing. I've still got $94 that they have to give me for food. Now, I'll have to pay another taxi ride to get back to Katherine to buy food. I think they won't give me a taxi voucher. I'm a bit worried, because they might not have enough store cards again.

There were a lot of people lined up at Centrelink, and some of them were getting upset. They said 'This is no good' and 'I don't like standing in line all day.' Some people had come in from a long way.

One old lady from Beswick said: 'Oh, hurry up. I've got to get my voucher so I can go back and the water might be up over the bridge. I might not be able to get in, if I go back too late.'

There were over 500 or 600 people at Centrelink. They were from Barunga, Beswick, Eva Valley, Walpiri Camp, Gorge Camp, Binjari, Long Grass, some from Hudson's Downs, some from Roper. Some were inside, and some were waiting outside. There was a big, long waiting line. Everyone was complaining about the time. There were only six or seven workers. I counted them.

A lot of people only got a store voucher for a little bit of money, like me. I think maybe some of them didn't get anything. That Centrelink was running out of store cards.

One woman had a problem getting her ID card. You have to have your ID card with you all the time. We got our ID cards from legal aid. We paid $5 to get that card. Centrelink said we had to get our ID card. It has our photo on it. We had to go right back, walk over to legal aid, walk back to Centrelink, wait in line again. At Katherine Centrelink, there is a toilet but it is not in use. Some people have to wander off to find a toilet and they miss out when their names are called. They have to wait in line again.

One young girl from Barunga said: 'I live at Barunga and we don't have access to store cards at our community, even though we've got a store. I have to come all the way to Katherine to get my store card.'

Just before Christmas we were stranded in Katherine. That mini bus driver said 'Wait. I can't travel at night. I'm going to have to take you mob in the morning now.' We were stranded, and we had bought all our food. We didn't know where to sleep. I know that Christian Brother from church, and I saw him, so I asked him 'Can you help us out? Do you have a vehicle that can take us to Eva Valley?' He went to ask his friend and his friend wasn't there. He was on holiday. He said to me 'This is not fair on you. You have to travel a long way. You should talk to your local government, write a letter.' He said 'When you come into town next time, you and me can sit down and write a letter. We can go to that local government together and talk to them.'

This has been a hard Christmas for us at Eva Valley. If people want to help Aboriginal communities have a good Christmas spirit next year they should make a donation through the Fred Hollows Foundation.
Next Christmas I hope we have presents and Santa Claus and a real Christmas spirit.

Rachel Willika lives at Eva Valley, one of the Aboriginal communities prescribed by the Federal Government's intervention in the Northern Territory.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Can't play Canute at the shorelines of capital

Dr James Cumes appears on Online Opinion today with a piece that comments on the speculative capitalism of the United States (see )

This is the reply I’ve posted to that article:

Dr Cumes accurately describes the problems of the “casino economies”, manifested in the continuing sub-prime crisis. (For my own analysis see )

Whether it is possible to transform these economies back to “real investment” is a bigger question than whether or not such a move is desirable.

Real investment is investment in productive capacity, in productive processes that create added value which is realized through the sale of goods and services. Realized added value increases, however, the amount of capital, which in turn must reproduce or increase its own value in order to remain useful for its owners.

Up until the last quarter of a century or so, major economic fluctuations took the form of overproduction of material commodities.

Inevitably, finance capital sought faster and higher returns, and returns unencumbered by the requirement for part of the investment to be tied up in capital items such as plant and machinery.

So finance capital itself became a commodity once risk-takers established that its purchase and resale (often stripped of capital items and so-called labour costs) could result in massive quick profits. The financial market place now largely consists of tables simultaneously occupied by bodies of organized finance that can be buyers one moment, and bought the next.

Our current crises now take the form of the overproduction of finance capital, of capital as virtual capital not based on the real value of goods and services.

This arrangement is now so dominant that it has created a whole set of cultural, political, economic and military characteristics that we refer to as globalization.

Can we stop this? We can perhaps retard it, repudiating for example, the changes to Australian banking law introduced by Howard in December 2006 that exempted foreign investors from a 30% capital gains tax. This led to a massive increase in private equity buyouts.

But Cumes is correct. “Short-term expedients will not do.” Neither will playing King Canute at the shoreline of the profit economy.

Capitalism always finds ways of outwitting the regulators and is itself the problem.

Workers die for bosses' profit

Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) official Joe McDonald has demanded immediate access to an iron mine in Western Australia’s Pilbara region following the death of a worker at the site on Friday January 11, 2008.

Workers at the mine are employed on unAustralian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) which deny the union the right to enter the mine. In the absence of trained union health and safety reps, safety issues are dealt with by management alone.

Workers at the site raised 82 separate safety issues about two months ago, but according to McDonald “We couldn’t get near the place” because of AWA conditions.

The dead man was employed at the Cloud Break Mine, located near Newman, about 1200kms from Perth.

The mine is owned by Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue Metals Group (FMG). Forrest briefly eclipsed Jamie Packer as Australia’s wealthiest man at the end of December, when the value of his one billion shares in FMG rose 8.1% (or by an extra $544 million) to $7.26bn. However, falls in share prices on Wall Street during January have since seen him drop back behind Packer.

The dead man was a young worker in his 20s who had been married only a week prior to the accident which claimed his life. It was only his second day on the job.

He was in a boom lift, or cherry picker, with another worker and was working the controls to get close to a building under construction.

They were about 40 metres off the ground when his head became wedged between the building and the controls on the cherry picker.

This meant that the other worker could not access the controls to lower the boom and free him.

According to Kevin Reynolds, WA secretary of the CFMEU, there was a manual override switch on the ground. There were three workers near the switch, but all were Section 475 visa workers recruited from Thailand who could not speak English and could not work out how to use the override switch.

It took over half an hour for the worker to be freed from the cherry picker, by which time he had died.

This is not the first time that FMG has come under fire over safety standards. Last March two workers were killed on the mine’s rail link project when they were confined to substandard accommodation during the approach of Cyclone George. Unions said then that the two should have been evacuated to a safer site.

Nor is it the first time unions have expressed concerns about safety issues relating to Section 457 visa workers with poor English skills. Normally, the concern is for the vulnerability of these workers themselves when they cannot read safety signs or are left unaware of their rights in respect of OHWS. The CFMEU has been in the forefront of winning struggles around the rights of such workers.

Tragically, in this case, the failure of the company to have an English-speaking operator on the ground as backup to the two workers on the cherry picker seems to have contributed to the fatality.

And it has just (January 17) been revealed that a major expansion in the employment of Section 457 visa workers in the mining industry is about to occur.

BHP Billiton has struck a secret agreement with the Immigration Department to bring in foreign tradespeople to work on its Pilbara iron ore operations. As many as 350 tradespeople could be imported by subcontractors working for the mining giant.

The CFMEU has described the deal as a major blow for job and training opportunities for local youths.

This will be a further threat to safety standards in the mining industry.

Not that this will worry the likes of Andrew Forrest.

He has impeccable ruling class credentials, being a descendant of the first Premier of WA, Sir John Forrest.

His parents own a Pilbara cattle station. He began his working life as a stock-broker and in his early 30s became CRO of Anaconda Nickel. In 2003 he took control of FMG, the largest iron ore miner in the Pilbara.

Just as his company extracts minerals from the soil of our nation, Forrest himself extracts surplus value (profit) from the labour power of our people.

The huge wealth that Forrest reaps from his workers, in a socialist system, could be placed at the disposal of society and used to improve the living conditions of workers. Free health, free education, better housing and public transport and higher wages and improved working conditions would all be possible if the wealth created by people was at their disposal rather than being used to make a handful of people obscenely wealthy.