Aboriginal elder loses bid to overturn expansion of BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam

Date of publication: 
23 April 2012

THE Federal Court has dismissed a challenge to the approval of BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam expansion.

Aboriginal elder and anti-nuclear campaigner Kevin Buzzacott challenged the Federal Government’s approval of the $30 billion project, arguing the environmental assessment was too shortsighted and small in scope.

But the challenge to the environmental approval was quashed in a five-minute judgment handed down by Justice Besanko in the Federal Court.

Around 20 protesters congregated outside the court before the judgment, where Mr Buzzacott criticised the “greedy” and “selfish” act of expanding the mine.

Outside the court, a disappointed Mr Buzzacott said it was a “sad day” for the state.

“We still have to wait for the judgment and look at where we’re going to take it from there,” he said.

“I think we did our best, put our argument up and it’s not over yet. The battle hasn’t even started yet.”

The State Government may be Mr Buzzacott’s next target, with a case against its approval mentioned in the Supreme Court.


Court rejects bid to stop SA Olympic Dam


20 April 2012

THE federal court has rejected a move by an Aboriginal elder to block a giant expansion of the Olympic Dam uranium and copper mine in South Australia’s north.

Kevin Buzzacott challenged the federal government’s approval of the mine, arguing Environment Minister Tony Burke had not given enough consideration to its long-term impact and the risks posed by storage of radioactive tailings at the site.

His lawyers told the court the waste would remain radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years, yet a closure plan had only taken into account the risks posed for the next 10,000 years.

They also argued the minister’s approval of the mine’s expansion was an improper exercise of his power and that he had not adequately considered the potential impact on the environment from the sale of uranium overseas and the extraction of extra water from the Great Artesian Basin.
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In rejecting Mr Buzzacott’s application on Friday, Justice Anthony Besanko agreed with submissions from the federal government in relation to the radioactive tailings that the minister had taken into account the long-term impact.

“Both the periods referred to are very long periods of time and to draw any distinction between them for the purpose of determining the relevant consideration would be artificial,” Justice Besanko said.

Outside the court Mr Buzzacott, from the Arabunna people, said he was disappointed but not particularly surprised by the decision.

“We were expecting something like this to happen. I guess it’s just a sad day for the people of South Australia and especially my people,” Mr Buzzacott said.

“I think we did our best to get our arguments up.

“It’s not over yet. The battle may have started, but it hasn’t ended yet.”

The Olympic Dam expansion is expected to generate up to 6000 new jobs during the 11-year construction phase and a further 4000 operational jobs.

It will become the world’s largest open-cut mine with annual copper production forecast to more than triple to about 750,000 tonnes and uranium oxide production to jump to 19,000 tonnes.

The project is also tipped to create 15,000 indirect jobs in flow-on industries and services.

The SA government passed indenture legislation to approve the mine’s expansion last year, and it only remains for the BHP Billiton board to sign off on the proposal with a decision expected by about mid-year.

Mr Buzzacott said he would consider the Federal Court judgment in detail before deciding on a possible appeal.

He said he was not concerned at the moment about the possibility of costs being awarded against him.

The judge has ordered submissions on that issue to be filed with the court within seven days.


Greens Back David in Fight Against Radioactive Goliath


3 April 2012

The Australian Greens have congratulated Aboriginal elder of the Arabunna Nation Kevin Buzzacott today as Mr Buzzacott began his legal challenge to the Olympic Dam expansion in South Australia.

Greens spokesperson on nuclear policy Senator Scott Ludlam said the Greens stand “shoulder to shoulder” with Mr Buzzacott in his challenge to the Federal Environment Minister’s approval of the massive expansion.

“Mr Buzzacott is arguing that significant environmental impacts of this massive project, which includes uranium mining, were not properly considered. The Australian Greens and the South Australian Greens have repeatedly raised concerns about the approvals process in this case, and we believe Mr Buzzacott is on target with this action.”

The case will be heard on the 3rd and 4th of April in the Federal Court, Adelaide.

“The Environment Minister Tony Burke gave the go-ahead to this project under a piece of legislation, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, that demands a comprehensive explanation of the proposed project. However, various details have not been properly explained at any point in the application process, raising serious questions,” said Senator Ludlam.

“In our view, the Minister did not demonstrably give due consideration to the impact of the Olympic Dam expansion on the environment, particularly in regards to the impact from the above ground storage of radioactive tailings waste.”

“This project – as it stands – will create a mountain of radioactive carcinogens – 70 million tonnes every year – with no requirement to isolate the tailings. It will create a pit 4.5 km long, 3.5 km wide and 1 km deep with no plans for rehabilitation of this pit at the closing of mine operations. By 2020 it will likely be leaking up to eight million litres of liquid radioactive waste a day from the tailings storage facility into regional groundwater, it will generate at least 4.2 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year for decades, and it is pre-empting a treaty for sale of uranium in bulk concentrates not currently sanctioned under Australia’s bilateral uranium sales agreements that is yet to be negotiated with China.”