NT Government approves McArthur River Mine expansion against advice of sacred sites authority
The Northern Territory Government has approved a major expansion of Glencore’s McArthur River zinc mine against the advice of its own sacred site authority, which says it has not cleared the work to go ahead.
- Glencore has been given permission to expand its lead and zinc mine near Borroloola
- Traditional owners are angered and upset approval has been given despite their opposition
- The NT Government says approval must still be sought for some work that could damage sacred sites
The Government’s approval of the company’s mining management plan allows Glencore to double the size of its mining pit and waste rock dump at the lead and zinc mine near Borroloola in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Announcing the approval on Thursday, NT Resources Minister Nicole Manison said the management plan would ensure the mine continued to operate “in an environmentally safe and responsible manner”, while supporting more than a thousand jobs.
But the NT’s Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA) says it has rejected the company’s application for an authority certificate and requested more consultation with traditional owners concerned about potential damage to sacred and heritage sites.
The authority said the company’s appeal against that decision was still with the Government and the announcement of the plan’s approval was concerning.
“The announcement was very sad for us — we have given [Glencore] a lot of chances to work with us but they haven’t done it,” AAPA chairman Bobby Nunggamajbarr said.
Mr Nunggamajbarr said authority certificates were important for both custodians and developers.
“Juukan Gorge does not need to be repeated here in the NT,” he said.
Borroloola area traditional owner Conrad Rory said he was hurt and outraged by the Government’s announcement.
He said he had hoped that the backlash over the destruction of the Juukan Gorge caves in Western Australia would stop the expansion being approved.
“This is important to me because as an Aboriginal person I am a very spiritual person — I believe in my country,” he said.
“My great-great grandfather taught me, if you look after your country, your country will look after you.”
Concerns for Djirrinmini waterhole
Glencore had been waiting for final approval for its expansion plans since 2018, when the NT’s Environment Protection Authority (EPA) recommended they go ahead on the basis that the risk of further environmental damage would be higher if the company left the site.
The risks relate to toxic chemicals burning in the mine’s waste rock dump, which the ABC revealed in 2014 was sending plumes of sulphur dioxide across the Gulf country.
Previously, the mine’s former owner Xstrata destroyed an important Rainbow Serpent dreaming site by diverting the McArthur River around the zinc lead ore body in 2009, with the permission of then federal environment minister Peter Garrett.
The EPA’s assessment in 2018 found sites including the Djirrinmini waterhole could be damaged by the expansion.
Mr Rory said he had deep concerns for the permanent spring-fed site, as well as an Aboriginal rock tool quarry.
“Water is life for me, water is precious to us,” he said.
Mr Rory and other traditional owners are also angry that the Government is allowing Glencore to increase the size of its waste rock dump from 80 to 140 metres high, making it level with the Barramundi Dreaming sacred site on a ridge behind the mine.
Under NT law, companies must have permission from the AAPA before they can damage or remove any sacred site.
Asked by the ABC how the Government could approve the mine management plan without AAPA issuing a certificate, Ms Manison said some of the works could go ahead without one.
“We do have clearances there for the development that is happening. But we expect them to comply with AAPA and their environmental requirements as well, but this is about supporting jobs,” she said.
“For some of those developments to go forward, some of this development is conditional on AAPA clearance.
“We are putting conditions there that say that they must get those clearances in order to go forward and do the development.”
Glencore’s McArthur River Mine general manager Steven Rooney provided a statement saying the company would comply with the Sacred Sites Act.
“We have robust internal processes in place to ensure the protection of sacred sites,” he said.
He said the company would continue to work with the AAPA to gain permission to raise the waste rock dump height.
“We continue to work with AAPA to allow for the placement of overburden rock higher than 80 metres on our North Overburden Emplacement Facility,” he said.