Aboriginal elder loses bid to block $30bn Olympic Dam mine expansion

Date of publication: 
8 October 2013

AN Aboriginal elder has lost a protracted court bid to block the $30 billion expansion to the Olympic Dam copper, uranium and gold mine in South Australia.

Kevin Buzzacott first took his case to the Federal Court in early 2012, claiming then federal Environment Minister Tony Burke had not given enough consideration to several issues before granting approval.

Mr Buzzacott’s appeal to the full court of the Federal Court was prompted when a single judge dismissed an initial action.

But the full court also dismissed his appeal today, more than 12 months after he first argued his case and more than six months after mining giant BHP Billiton put the expansion on hold.

In its 98-page judgment, the court found that the approval of the mine’s expansion was not uncertain or lacking finality.

Mr Buzzacott had argued that Mr Burke had not taken into account key aspects of the plan, including the impact of water extraction from the Great Artesian Basin and the risks posed by the storage of radioactive tailings.

His counsel also pointed to aspects of the expansion that were still to be resolved, including plans and conditions related to the construction of a desalination plant, ore shipments from the port of Darwin and the construction of major pipelines.

The result was an approval that “wasn’t really an approval”, the court was told.

At the time of his appeal, Mr Buzzacott said he was taking his action “for my land”.

“We put up a good argument, a good story, to the judges,” he said.

He now faces paying the costs of the federal and South Australian governments and BHP Billiton in the relation to the case.

The Olympic Dam expansion was planned to create the world’s largest open-cut mine.

BHP Billiton has put the project on hold while it works on advancing mining technology to make the expansion financially viable.