Buzzacott returns to court to block dam expansion

Date of publication: 
21 June 2012

SOUTH AUSTRALIA: An Arabunna elder has returned to the Federal Court to tell “a good story” in his bid to block the $30 billion expansion of the Olympic Dam copper, uranium and gold mine in South Australia’s north.

Kevin Buzzacott first took action earlier this year, claiming federal Environment Minister Tony Burke had not given enough consideration to a number of issues including the risks posed by the storage of radioactive tailings.

His action was dismissed, but on Thursday he argued an appeal before the full court.

“We put up a good argument, a good story, to the judges but we don’t really know what’s going to happen until the judgment which will be in a few weeks time,” he said.

“But I’ve got to do this for my land.”

Before the court his counsel Geoffrey Kennett SC argued it was not sufficient for Mr Burke to have just considered the impact of taking water from the basin.

He said the minister had to have proper regard to the conditions already imposed on water extraction by the state government.

Mr Kennett 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.

He said the result was an approval that “wasn’t really an approval”.

South Australian Solicitor-General Martin Hinton said in relation to water extraction, Mr Burke did not need to have regard to the conditions imposed by the state government under water licences because there was no proposal to take additional water.

“The action does not occasion any change … the licences then become irrelevant,” he said.

The appeal was continuing with the three judges expected to reserve their decision to a date to be fixed.

The Olympic Dam expansion will create 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.

BHP Billiton is yet to give final approval for the expansion and, under the terms of state government approvals, has until the end of the year to make a decision.