Kakadu: Mirarr people seek clarification as ERA, Rio bicker

Barry Fitzgerald
The Australian

Traditional owners of the Ranger and Jabiluka uranium sites inside Kakadu are seeking federal government assurances that their veto powers over further mining and development remain.

The call from the Mirarr people, through the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation (GAC), follows the confusion caused by last month’s explosive difference of opinion between Energy Resources of Australia and its 68 per cent shareholder, Rio Tinto.

Rio triggered a collapse in ERA’s market value when it said it would not support any further study, or the future development, of Ranger 3 Deeps (R3D) — an underground resource ERA has long planned to develop to extend the life of the Ranger ­operation.

While ERA itself has gone cool on the development because of the collapse in spot uranium prices to $US36 a pound, it has nevertheless said it would continue talks to secure authority to continue operations at Ranger beyond the current 2021 expiry of its licence, which comes with an obligation to rehabilitate the site by 2026.

The confusion comes as the in-the-ground value of undeveloped uranium resources held by ERA at the Ranger site, and the undeveloped Jabiluka, was increased last week to more than $25 billion thanks to an increase in the resource estimate for R3D.

The GAC said on the weekend that ERA’s statement on Friday about the resource upgrade — and its ongoing talks for an extension of its authority to operate at Ranger — had added to the ambiguity surrounding the company, and whether it would have cash to meet the full cost of rehabilitation at Ranger and Jabiluka.

“In contrast to this ongoing uncertainty the Mirarr traditional owners maintain a firm commitment to the protection of their country and culture at Ranger and Jabiluka and in surrounding areas of the national park,’’ the GAC said. GAC chief executive Justin O’Brien said the Mirarr now required “essential assurances’’ from the federal government.

He acknowledged Rio has said previously it is in talks with ERA to provide a conditional credit facility to fund rehabilitation obligations if required.

“We have no reason to doubt either Rio Tinto’s commitment to this full rehabilitation or the international opprobrium the company would face were it to in any way seek to avoid or shift that commitment,’’ Mr O’Brien said.

He said the Mirarr wanted assurances from the federal government to “guarantee that there will be no approval of further mining at Ranger nor any mining at Jabiluka ever unless that approval has the full and freely given consent of the Mirarr traditional owners’’.

“With respect to Jabiluka, ERA and Rio Tinto have made this commitment and they have entered into a binding agreement to that effect which the Mirarr respect. We are still waiting, however, for the commonwealth to make a similar commitment at both sites,’’ Mr O’Brien said.

‘’We have asked the government to begin planning for these sites to be eventually returned to Kakadu National Park. The core issue is the long-term integrity of Kakadu. Rio Tinto has announced that it is willing to do what needs to be done. We are waiting to hear the same message from the commonwealth government.”


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