now, because it’s not good for anything.”40
The existing mine operates under the Roxby Downs Indenture Act 1982, which provides overrides and exemptions from key state legislation including the SA Aboriginal Heritage Act 1979 and 1988. BHP Billiton is in a legal position to determine what consultation occurs with which Traditional Owners and the nature of any consultation41. The Company decides the level of protection that Aboriginal heritage sites receive and which sites are recognised. BHP Billiton claims that it fully complies with Aboriginal heritage legislation. However, the question remains why the company is unwilling to relinquish the outdated legal exemptions42.
The Roxby Downs Indenture Act 1982 also allows wide-ranging exemptions from key environmental laws such as the SA Environmental Protection Act 1993, Freedom of Information Act 1991 and the Natural Resources Act 2004 – including on critical water resources and Great Artesian Basin (GAB) management issues43.
BHP Billiton should agree that this outdated Indenture Act be repealed by the SA Parliament and should withdraw their request to the SA state government that the Indenture Act be amended to apply and extend these exemptions and legal privileges to the proposed new open pit mine for decades to come.
The new open pit mine would see the production of radioactive tailings increase seven-fold to 68 million tonnes annually. These tailings are stored above ground and contain a toxic, acidic mix of radionuclides and heavy metals, effectively a source of permanent pollution. There have been many spills and leaks since the mine began. In the mid-1990s it was revealed that about three billion litres had seeped from the tailings dams over two years. These problems at the existing underground mine have yet to be resolved44.
BHP Billiton have designed the proposed new open pit mine to leak on average some 3 million litres of liquid radioactive waste a day from the tailings piles and to dump radioactive tailings on the surface to be left there forever. They do not intend to rehabilitate the proposed new open pit at closure of the mine but to leave this radioactive scar on the landscape forever.
BHP Billiton should have to prevent leakage and to agree to isolate tailings from the environment for at least the minimum 10,000 year regulatory standard applied by the Australian Federal government at the Ranger uranium mine. Is the proposed new open pit mine only ‘economic’ because BHP Billiton do not intend to responsibly manage their radioactive mine wastes or to properly dispose of these tailings into the void of the pit at closure?
“Here you are, BHP, the biggest mining company in the world, and here we are the oldest peoples in the world. You should be listening to us about this land and the water. BHP, don’t go ahead with the expansion, we all know how dangerous it is,” explains Uncle Kevin Buzzacott, an Arabunna Elder from Lake Eyre South, South Australia. “When you’ve packed up and gone that’s when the earthquakes will happen, don’t go ahead with it; use your common sense. There should never be an open cut uranium mine in the desert. We don’t know if your shareholders understand the impacts of what you’re doing to the Arabunna people, the Kokatha people and other tribes around that area. You don’t understand what you’re doing to the land and the culture.”45
40 Wingfield, Eileen, 16 September 2009, interview with Cat Beaton.
41 Friends of the Earth, 2008, Roxby Downs Indenture Act, accessed 29 September 2009 www.foe.
42 Burdon, Peter, 2006, Above the Law, Roxby Downs and BHP Billiton’s Legal Priviliges, accessed online 29 September 2009. www.foe.org.au/anti-nuclear/issues/oz/u/roxby/indenture/indenture
43 Friends of the Earth, 2008, Roxby Downs Indenture Act, accessed 29 September 2009 www.foe.
44 Friends of the Earth, 2009, ‘Roxby Downs Uranium/Copper Mine’, accessed 29 September 2009,
45 Buzzacott, Kevin, 18 September 2009, interview with Mia Pepper.