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Arkaroola wilderness sanctuary ban from mining

By: Thanh Loan Nguyen
25 August, 2010

Feature of the week: Protestors recently turned to parliamentary members to help them save the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary from mining purposes.

The owners of the sanctuary, Marg and Doug Sprigg, have got the support from Greens MP Mark Parnell who plans to introduce an amendment which would prohibit mining in the sanctuary.

Parnell believes that the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary is a critical part of the northern Flinders corridor and would need to be protected.

"The Greens' amendment to the mining bill is to include the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary on that fairly small list of places that are protected from mining.

"Most of the state, in fact it's close to 95 per cent of South Australia, is available for mining but these precious places do need to be protected," said Parnell.

The urgency of the ban started when an investigation had found that Marathon's uranium exploration activities had wrongfully disposed more than 20,000 bags of drilling and other waste at the environmentally sensitive site in 2008. The Government of South Australia then suspended Marathon Resources exploration drilling operations indefinitely in February 2008.

Marg Sprigg said she is disappointed that Marathon's licence was quickly renewed within one year of the investigation and little has been done about the mining activity on the property.

"We are extremely disappointed that the drilling activity wasn't immediately suspended until after the investigation was completed. This is simply a slap on the wrist for Marathon – nothing more to them than a nuisance factor," she said.

"We genuinely believe that the whole future of Arkaroola as a carefully-managed, world-acclaimed wilderness sanctuary is seriously compromised by Marathon's clumsy practices.

"Quite apart from the most recent incident, we've had to contend with a succession of inappropriate activity, including hydrocarbon spills, waste dispersal, safety issues, damage to our roads and unauthorised use of our scarce water supplies. In summary, Marathon has a poor track record with us to date and we do not have any confidence that they will change their practices," Sprigg said.

Retiring Liberal Senator Nick Minchin says he was shocked that the Australian Workers Union is advocating opening the sanctuary to the uranium industry.

"I am shocked and appalled that the Australian Workers Union is advocating the destruction of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary.

"It is extraordinary that the AWU wants to turn one of Australia's most precious and valuable natural wonders into a factory for the production of uranium," said Minchin.

Parnell is confident that he would find enough support in the total banning of mining amendment to be put forward in front of the Legislative Council.

"I'm hoping that when my amendment is debated that it will have broad support but ultimately it's up to members of the Legislative Council whether they support it. The ball will then be back in Premier Mike Rann's court, whether he's prepared to do the right thing and protect this important wilderness sanctuary in perpetuity," he said.

Marg and her brother Doug Sprigg have managed the sanctuary for more than 40 years.

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