NT mine's environmental bond fight reignites

·3-min read

Traditional owners and environmentalists have launched an appeal against a Northern Territory court's ruling over a massive lead and zinc mine's environmental security bond.

The territory government in 2020 slashed the bond for Glencore's McArthur River Mine near Borroloola from about $520 million to around $400 million.

Josephine Davey, Jack Green and the Environment Centre NT (ECNT) lost a Supreme Court legal challenge last month that alleged the decision was unlawful and invalid.

The group on Monday filed an application in the same court appealing Justice Judith Kelly's judgment in April.

It says Glencore should be required to lodge a bond that is sufficient to rehabilitate the mine at the end of its life in 2037.

It said the court should declare Mining Minister Nicole Manison's original decision reducing it unlawful.

The mine - about 750km southeast of Darwin - has been dogged by environmental incidents and claims sacred Indigenous sites face irreversible cultural and ecological damage from its operation.

Jack Green, a Garawa man and one of Borroloola's senior elders, said many of the McArthur River Mine site's traditional owners were hurt by the court's recent decision.

"It makes us more sad because there are a lot of sacred sites around the mine we are worried about that are part of our law and culture," he said.

Josephine Davey, a Gudanji woman and native title holder of the McArthur River Mine site, is worried about whether her grandchildren will be able to maintain a connection to their country in the future.

"That's my gangu country (my grandfather's country) and guginya country (grandfather's sister's country) and I'd like them to know that is our home for our children," she said.

"We want (Glencore and the NT government) to listen about how to protect our land and our home."

ECNT director Kirsty Howey said the Supreme Court's ruling to uphold the NT government's decision set a dangerous precedent that must be challenged.

"Legacy mines are damaging lands and waterways around the country, and it's crucial that governments ensure the cost of rehabilitating mines is properly placed on the companies who inflict the damage," she said.

Dr Howey said the ruling posed unacceptable risks to local communities impacted by mining and taxpayers, who are frequently left to pay the bill for rehabilitation.

"Glencore's McArthur River Mine is one of the most polluting mines in Australia and has been plagued by a series of escalating incidents including a combusting waste rock dump, poisoned cattle and fish, and acid mine drainage," she said.

"On the mine's own assessment, it will require some form of monitoring for 1000 years and the mine's security bond should reflect that."

Borroloola community, which has a population of about 1200, 76 per cent of whom are Indigenous, is about 45km from the mine, which was built in the McArthur River's bed after it was diverted by 5.5km.

A McArthur River Mine spokesman said it was not part of the court proceedings and the mine would continue to comply with all legal and regulatory obligations, including environmental, cultural heritage and health and safety requirements.

"Environmental security bonds for mines in the Northern Territory are calculated by the NT government using its own processes and methodology," the company said

The NT government declined to comment.