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Australia Traditional owners ask federal politicians for help to protect McArthur River Mine sacred sites

00:16  06 may  2021
00:16  06 may  2021 Source:   msn.com

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Traditional Owners have similarly expressed “frustration and sadness” that they are still fighting to protect the McArthur River , 14 years after supreme court ruling in their favour. “They’ve been saying to me ‘even when we win we still lose how can that be?'" said Senator McCarthy, who accompanied them “The people here are fearful of what the expansion of the mine dump will mean for their sacred sites .” The talks are being chaired by Warren Entsch, co-chaired by Shane Davey and include Senators Patrick Dodson and Lidia Thorpe. Federal politicians speaking with traditional owners in Borroloola.

Traditional Owners have similarly expressed “frustration and sadness” that they are still fighting to protect the McArthur River , 14 years after supreme court ruling in their favour. “They’ve been saying to me ‘even when we win we still lose how can that be?'" said Senator McCarthy, who accompanied them “The people here are fearful of what the expansion of the mine dump will mean for their sacred sites .” The talks are being chaired by Warren Entsch, co-chaired by Shane Davey and include Senators Patrick Dodson and Lidia Thorpe. Federal politicians speaking with traditional owners in Borroloola.

a man smiling next to a tree: Josephine Davey worries damage has already been done to traditional lands. (ABC News: Jane Bardon) © Provided by ABC Business Josephine Davey worries damage has already been done to traditional lands. (ABC News: Jane Bardon)

Aboriginal traditional owners have made a plea to federal MPs and senators investigating the destruction of the Juukan Gorge caves in WA, asking for their help to protect sacred sites in the NT.

Their concerns relate to sacred and archaeologically significant sites on and around the McArthur River Mine.

Senators and MPs on the federal Standing Committee on Northern Australia travelled to the remote Gulf of Carpentaria town of Borroloola to take evidence from more than 100 traditional owners.

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Twenty-two sacred sites are under threat of irreversible damage from operations at the McArthur River Mine , according to a new report from the University of New South Wales (UNSW). The report also found an important river system in the Northern Territory could face ecological damage if the Gudanji and Yanyuwa Traditional Owners have raised concerns about the cultural and environmental damage caused by the massive lead-zinc mine for years. A continuous plume of sulphur dioxide smoke has been emitted from the mine 's waste rock dump since 2013 and acid seepage through the site

Glencore's McArthur River Mine in the Northern Territory is likely to impact an Indigenous sacred site , a federal parliamentary inquiry has been told. "By our estimations, the work associated with the waste rock pile will come within 35 metres of the boundary of that site ," chief executive Ben Scambary said on Tuesday. "This year the scale of the mine expansion raises some quite serious questions about the ongoing maintenance and protection of sacred sites on the lease, and also access for custodians to those places into the future."

Many told the committee they were concerned mining giant Glencore had asked the Northern Territory Heritage Minister for permission to cause impacts to their ancient sites on and around the McArthur River Mine, which it operates through a subsidiary.

Traditional owner Casey Davey told the ABC he hoped to hear good answers from the committee members.

"It's really hurting us here, same as the mob in Western Australia," he said.

The NT government is currently considering Glencore's request to expand its massive waste rock dump on the mine up to the level of a barramundi dreaming sacred site, and to remove stone tools from an Aboriginal quarry and then build part of the dump on the artefact site.

Labor MP Warren Snowdon, who chaired the committee in Borroloola, told the ABC the decision to hold the hearing in private was made so people could speak freely.

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Indigenous traditional owners and custodians of Glencore's McArthur River Mine site in the Northern Territory's Gulf country are holding a ceremony at a sacred site on the mining lease in protest over contamination of air and fish stocks. The Northern Territory Government told Glencore it wanted the company to increase its environmental rehabilitation bond and provide assurances on better environmental management by the end of September. Indigenous residents have said they are worried about future rehabilitation of the site , because of Glencore's massive share price plunge this week

McArthur River crossing at Borroloola in the wet season, looking up to the mine site . Photograph: Rebecca Parker. “ My ancestors spent their lives with that river – it is everything to us, we’re all connected to it,” she said. Lawyers from the Environmental Defenders Office, who are representing the residents He said McArthur River Mining , owned by Glencore, had acknowledged the problems with waste rock management, but the waste was now being sustainably managed. Glencore was committed to rehabilitating the site within the timeframes it had set out in its environment impact assessment, he

"That was to give people the freedom to be able to express themselves and talk about things in a way that they felt comfortable talking," he said.

"At some future point, if they want to give evidence under parliamentary privilege and put it on Hansard, we would accommodate that."

He said although the federal committee had no legal power to influence the decisions of the NT and other state and territory governments over sacred sites, the spotlight the inquiry was putting on problems would halt some contested decisions for now.

"What we've seen in Western Australia will give everyone pause to think, because we've seen the issues in Kakadu and the cases around here, the Aboriginal site protection authority in the Northern Territory need to be listened to."

Community leaders give evidence

The evidence was heard in a tin shed on the edge of Borroloola in the baking early dry season heat.

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It also reported the McArthur River tributaries Surprise and Barney Creeks are expected to have "poor water quality into the long term" because of toxic seepage. Northern Territory Environment Centre contributed to the research. Co-director Kirsty Howey said it appeared the Independent Monitor's " McArthur River Mine is committed to operating a safe, responsible and environmentally sustainable mining operation," the company said. "The McArthur River is healthy, water quality is good and fish are safe to eat." Glencore said its monitoring had found no evidence the Jirinmini sacred waterhole

Glencore’s controversial McArthur River Mine has overcome one of the final barriers to its plans to keep digging, more than five years after an enormous error caused spontaneous combustion on the mine site and created fears of an environmental catastrophe that could last millennia. On Thursday, Northern Territory primary industry and resources minister Paul Kirby signed off on changes to the McArthur River Mine ’s management plan. It follows a similar approval issued by the federal government in June. The decision marks the end of a five-year environmental approval process

Garawa elder Jack Green, who is a Borroloola Aboriginal leader, said his written submission to the committee contained pictures of some of his many paintings, which accuse Glencore of dividing traditional owners over what should happen to sacred sites on the mine.

"Because I can't read or write, this is the only way I can get them to see what I'm worried about.

"They [Glencore] just pick up certain people that's going to agree with them, and under our law, Aboriginal law, you can't do that.

"We're all in this together, the four clan groups here, and the families who are connected to that land."

After the meeting, Mr Green said it appeared the committee listened intently to the traditional owners' concerns.

"I think they're probably going to stand up pretty strong for us" he said.

His wife Josephine Davey is a Gudanji traditional owner.

She said she has already been hurt because the mine was built on a rainbow serpent dreaming site.

"I just hope they listened to us, to the problem we've got here," she said.

"I want the mine to clean up the damage that they done and to look after our sacred sites, protect them."

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Committee will visit mine site

Glencore has asked for permission to build the waste rock dump to 140 metres high beside the barramundi dreaming, and destroy the stone tool quarry, based on an agreement it made with six mine site custodians in 2017.

The agreement, viewed by the ABC, promises each custodian an $85,000 car and $400 food and $400 fuel vouchers every month, for custodians to share with their family groups, for the duration of mining.

After the waste rock dump expansion is approved the agreement promises $250,000 for each custodian to spend on their homes.

In response to questions about the custodian agreement, Glencore gave the ABC a statement, which said it viewed the protection of sacred and cultural sites as critical and it looked forward to welcoming the Senate committee.

"The committee will view a number of sacred and cultural heritage sites on our mining lease, accompanied by traditional owners," a spokesperson said.

"Protection of sacred and cultural heritage sites at the mine is of critical importance and we welcome the opportunity to show the mine site to committee members."

The NT government's Aboriginal Area Protection Authority has rejected Glencore's custodian agreement as invalid because not all traditional owners were consulted.

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The NT government last year gave Glencore permission to keep expanding the dump, subject to a decision on the future of the sacred sites.

The NT Heritage Minister is still considering Glencore's request to overrule the AAPA's sacred sites certificate refusal.

Traditional owner worried over what will happen once mining ends

Traditional owners including Mr Davey are worried Glencore plans to leave half a billion tonnes of waste rock on the bank of the McArthur River forever, once mining stops in 2037.

"Hopefully, they don't just walk away and leave everything up to us to try and clean up their messes," Mr Davey said.

The reactive waste rock contains material which burns when in contact with air or rain. The mine's government-appointed independent monitor has reported over many years that it is causing acid mine drainage from the dump and from the mine's tailings dam.

Environmental hydrology engineer Philips Higgins from the University of New South Wales Global Water Institute travelled to Borroloola to give traditional owners information about the threats to the water-dependent sacred sites identified by the mine's independent monitor, before the Senate committee hearing.

"We have seen some information from the independent monitor reports that they are expecting drawdown of the groundwater from the Djirrinmini waterhole, but we don't have any baseline data to say what the magnitude of that impact is," she said.

"What's even more concerning is that these other three sacred sites that we know rely on groundwater have not been addressed at all in any of the mine reporting or independent monitor reports.

"There is no way for us to know what their status is."


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