Garrett's Uranium Sell-Out

Leslie Richmond | | 19 July 2009 | + MORE RELEVANT ARTICLES

He occupied a (somewhat self-appointed) position as a hero of Australia's environment and Indigenous rights movements for decades. Yet these days, former Midnight Oil frontman and current ALP environment minister Peter Garrett works overtime to prove his credentials as a defender of big business and the big polluters.

Indeed, his sell-outs of the environment and Aboriginal people have become so common you could be forgiven for thinking the whole Midnight Oil thing was some extended, Chaseresque joke that no-one twigged on to.

His latest exercise in political surrender was his approval of the Four Mile uranium mine in northern South Australia. The deposit is the biggest uranium discovery in 25 years. It is just a few kilometres from Beverley uranium mine, the expansion of which Garrett approved last yeat.

Four Mile will be run by Quasar resources, a company owned by US weapons dealer and nuclear energy corporation General Atomics. General Atomics makes the Predator aerial drone vehicles the US is using so effectively to kill civilians in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

James Neal Blue, a US billionaire who was a strong supporter of the United States' covert wars in Latin America in the 1980s, chairs the company.

The Four Mile mine decision has also affected the traditional owners, the Adnyamathana people. Some in the community have welcomed the potential royalties from the mine. Yet many feel they have been left out of the process and that the development will destroy significant sites.

Once again, an Indigenous community is being forced to give up its heritage to have access to basic services and living standards. Garrett is dividing a community where people would have expected the Midnight Oil-era Garrett to be promoting Indigenous empowerment and ownership.

Yet the decision is not so surprising if you look at the other decisions he has made since becoming the federal environment minister.

He approved the unpopular Gunns pulp mill in Tasmania, and gave the go ahead to the dredging of Port Phillip Bay.

As arts minister, he cut all funding to the Australian National Academy of Music without notice. He backed away from the proposal to stop tourists climbing Uluru and backed away from a logging ban in the Riverina-Murray.

He approved the Sugarloaf pipeline, which will take scarce water from the Goulburn River and approved the Huntlee development in endangered scrubland in the Hunter Valley. He also approved the expansion of the McArthur River Mine, requiring the diversion of the McArthur River, sacred to the Borroloola people.

And he's accepted that far from being a setback for our country, US forces are, in fact, a positive boon. In 2004, he reversed his long-standing opposition to the US-run Pine Gap military facility. In 2007, he supported the establishment of a new US military spy facility near Geraldton.

Many people have had fun trotting out old Midnight Oil lyrics to wave in his face, but, as Garrett says, that was years ago. So, to be fair, what's he been saying more recently?

In 2002, when he was still the Australian Conversation Foundation president, he said: "The Australian nuclear story is a tale of woe" and "a tale of staunch resistance". He said: "We support Aboriginal peoples having a right of veto over nuclear projects on their traditional lands."

Three years ago, he told Sixty Minutes: "Nuclear is a dirty word because the stuff ends up in nuclear weapons, because the waste is highly toxic, highly carcinogenic, lasts for incredibly long periods of time ... it's not the right path for Australia to take."

And at the ALP national conference two years ago he said: "I have long been opposed to uranium mining and I remain opposed to it. I am unapologetic about this. In fact, I am proud of it."

Garrett may have forgotten the strong arguments against uranium mining, but there are many who still proudly oppose it. And with good reason. Apart from the risks associated with actual mining, such as groundwater contamination, the significant and still unsolved problem of nuclear waste remains: there is no safe, lasting way to dispose of it.

Similarly, who can know that the resources company Quasar - owned by military hardware company General Atomics - will run the mine without thinking immediately of the potential the uranium will end up in nuclear weapons? The only safe place for uranium is in the ground, undisturbed.

But such matters as environmental threats and nuclear proliferation are apparently not the issue: faced with accusations of hypocrisy, Garrett told the media he was following ALP policy - that it showed he was a "team player".

Party solidarity and discipline is fine when it is coupled with real processes of internal democracy and political honesty, when policy is properly debated and voted on by the membership then clearly and openly presented to the public.

The ALP, however, is a party whose leadership has complete contempt for democracy. Decisions made at ALP conferences are often overridden, and the opinions and desires of its members denigrated or ignored. The insertion of Garrett as the candidate for Kingsford-Smith in 2004, against the wishes of the local ALP branch, is just one example.

And as for political honesty, the ALP has shown it is willing to do tricky preference deals with anyone to ensure that progressive candidates don't get near electoral victory. One such deal was done with the Nationals in 1984 that made sure Garrett, then a Senate candidate for the Nuclear Disarmament Party, just missed out on a Senate seat.

Disdainful and dismissive of old supporters who believed in him, rolling in money, and willing to keep trading on his past activity for political and personal gain, Garrett may not hold much political sway within the modern ALP, but he and it are a perfect match.

Petratherm wants to power uranium mine

17/07/2009 | ABC

Geothermal company Petratherm says it hopes to develop a memorandum of understanding to supply power to the proposed Four Mile Uranium Mine in north-east South Australia.

Petratherm is currently drilling at the Paralana project in the northern Flinders Ranges and hopes to begin power circulation testing in early 2010.

The company's managing director, Terry Kallis, says it also plans to supply geothermal power to the nearby Beverley Mine and says there will be plenty of power for both mines.

"The resource out there is huge, the local market that we see is relatively small compared to the potential, there is plenty of resource available to supply both mines - in fact, many other mines up in the region, if we have them," he said.


Meanwhile, the chairman of the Adnyamathanha Traditional Land Association says the Four Mile Mine was inevitable and Aboriginal people have been disempowered.

Vince Coulthard says the Adnyamathanha people have entered into an agreement with the developer Quasar, which gives some positive outcomes fo the community - unlike previous developments.

He says many of his people are deeply hurt about the development but says it is out of their control.

"Well I think people have come to the understanding that if they didn't support it- it's going to happen [in] any case so the best thing to do is to negotiate an agreement," he said.

Greens savage Garrett over uranium mine
The Greens and environmental groups say a new uranium mine in South Australia's north will pollute groundwater for centuries and fuel global nuclear tensions.

The Four Mile mine is owned by Quasar Resources and is about 550 kilometres north of Adelaide.

Environment Minister Peter Garrett yesterday approved the operation of the mine, which will extract uranium just a few kilometres from the Beverley mine that he allowed to expand last year.

Mr Garrett yesterday the decision to allow the mine to operate was a difficult one, and was only made after rigorous assessments.

"As with all proposals examined under national environment law, this mine was subject to a comprehensive, scientifically robust and transparent assessment process," he said in a statement.

"Following this thorough assessment and careful consideration, I am certain this operation poses no credible risk to the environment."

But Greens Leader Bob Brown told ABC1's Lateline program last night he is horrified the mine has been approved without an adequate environmental assessment.

"The go-ahead without an environmental impact assessment of the first order has been given to this mine by a wholly owned corporation, for a process that would be banned, and is banned in the United States, but which is going to do huge damage for an untold time to come," he said.

'Toxic legacy'

South Australian Greens MP Mark Parnell says the uranium will be mined using the 'in-situ leaching' method which involves pumping sulphuric acid underground.

"For the life of me I can't see how it's world's best practice to pump acid into the ground to allow radioactive waste to be disposed of into groundwater and then not require the company to rehabilitate afterwards," he said.

"That is not world's best practice."

Mr Parnell dismisses assurances from the Government that the site will be monitored for environmental damage.

"What we'll be left with is a toxic legacy because the company is pumping acid and radioactive waste into the ground, and yet the Government is refusing to require them to clean up afterwards," he said.

"The Government talks about monitoring.

"Will they be monitoring for the half life of the uranium?

Peter Garrett: fool now or liar then?

by Jeff Sparrow | | Wednesday, 15 July 2009
"Is truth then so variable? Is it one thing at 20 and another at 40? [...] Were we fool then, or are we dishonest now?"

Such was the essayist William Hazlitt's response to the recantation of a once radical friend. His words might have been written for Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett -except that Garrett can't really claim to be reneging only on principles he held as a giddy youth. Why, as recently as 2006, he was still talking up the anti-nuclear movement and urging Australians to oppose new mines.

That year, he gave an interview to 60 Minutes.

GARRETT: Nuclear is a dirty word because the stuff ends up in nuclear weapons, because the waste is highly toxic, highly carcinogenic, lasts for incredibly long periods of time. [...] Why would Australians support an industry that produces radioactive waste, toxic waste? Why would you support an industry which leaves you with the long-term problem of having to take care of that waste, of guarding against terrorism, and floods, or possible earthquakes down the track. What I'm saying is it's not the right path for Australia to take.


GARRETT: Absolutely.

In that exchange, Garrett explicitly and repeatedly replied to all the arguments he now makes for the Four Mile uranium mine. Today, for instance, he tells us that Four Mile "poses no credible risk to the environment" because it was subjected to a "rigorous and comprehensive assessment".

In 2006, he scoffed at such assurances on the basis that nuclear waste remained deadly for for tens of thousand of years, and guarantees of safety over such periods amounted to "vanity and ... hubris" -exactly the point that South Australian Greens MP Mark Parnell makes today.

So fool then or liar now?

It's not just on the immediately environmental that Garrett dances to a different tune. In 2002, back in his Australian Conservation Foundation days, he wrote an account of the anti-nuclear movement under the suddenly ironic title "A saga of staunch resistance." In that document, alongside the standard demands for Labor to live up to its promises (oops!), he explained:

We support Aboriginal peoples having a right of veto over nuclear projects on their traditional lands. As the Mirrar people have said in their fight against Jabiluka, "Nothing can replace our country when it's mined. Nothing can reverse the damage to our water system and our food sources. Our culture cannot be replaced by money."

Geraldine Anderson from the Adnyamathana people might be interested to learn about how the Minister for Sorry T-shirts supports Aboriginal vetos. About the Four Mile project, Anderson says:

This Labor Government is saying sorry to the Stolen Generation, on the other hand they're taking the way of destroying our sites and taking our identity away. So when's this going to stop?

Not with the current minister in the portfolio, one suspects.

Garrett's hinted that his public positions don't necessarily reflect his private views. In party forums, you see, he's ever so fierce, a real tiger. But "I am now a cabinet minister, and the decisions I am taking are consistent with policy that the Government took and continues to take to the people."

Funny. He used to have a line on that, too. In the 1980s, Garrett walked out of the Nuclear Disarmament Party in protest about the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party. Drew Hutton, the historian of the environment, writers that Garrett feared the influence of the minuscule SWP because of its "strong caucusing and party discipline."

Strong caucusing? Party discipline? A few days ago, Rudd forced Garrett to eat crow publicly over the suggestion that tourists not be allowed to trample all over Uluru. When it comes to democratic centralism, Lenin had nothing on modern Labor.

Who knows? Maybe Garrett really thinks he's still achieving something, a deep cover environmental mole burrowing away inside the ALP, sacrificing battle after battle so that the greater war can be won.

But as Hazlitt also explained, hypocrites invariably try to make dupes of themselves, too.

Peter Garrett is a hypocrite

LIZ45 | - Comments | Wednesday, 15 July 2009 | Permalink
Peter Garrett is a hypocrite. I don’t care how he tries to dress it up, being part of a government blah blah. Although I support some policies of the ALP, I’d never consider standing as an ALP politician for several reasons, but the most important would be the uranium mining policy. Every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle (except perhaps the nuclear reactor, but it has its own dangers) produces horrific damage to the environment, involves emitting radioactive waste, is unsafe for workers, and last but by no means least, over-rides and damages aboriginal peoples’ right to pure water, food and culture.

I still wear my Jabiluku T-short from 10, 20 yrs ago, with an Aboriginal elder ‘s quote (on the back)about the damage to her people and their land. Due to strong opposition, that mine closed, hopefully for good!

Uranium mining requires lots of water. South Australia has more problems re the supply of water for its citizens than any other state. Why then did the Sth Australian government allow the mining company an obscene amount of water daily for nothing? Now, that mining company is going to build a desalination plant just so they can extend their mining capacities. Unbelievable? Desaliniation plants are also damaging to the environment, not to mention what happens to the ocean when the salt is put back into it???

As a person who’s mourning the recent death of a wonderful young woman of only 46 through cancer, I believe, that even though population numbers have increased in the last 20 yrs, I’d like to know why 1 in every 2-3 people can now look forward to being diagnosed with this horrific and cruel disease? If cancers had a little ‘tag’ on them that told how they developed, I believe that the nuclear industry would probably have been closed down years ago. People always raise the issue of nuclear medicine - you don’t need a huge reactor to produce these requirements.

The sites of uranium mines look like some horrific sore on the environment. I don’t know of any company around the world that has been forced to clean up as they go, or return the area back to its pristine condition - just never happens! Whether it’s uranium mining or nuclear tests, there’s always toxic garbage left - that affects the lives and health of usually indigenous people. So much for reconciliation!

Last but not least is the reactor itself; the transport and storage of nuclear waste, and the loss/abuse of civil liberties in every country where nuclear power is allowed. The huge costs of security, transport and removing old reactors requires huge sums of money from governments - the national government usually. These costs aren’t included in the cost per kilowatt hour of nuclear power, and they’re not usually the responsiblity of the company that boosts its profits by selling this dangerous material overseas. It’s laughable, that the media hype up the threat of ‘terrorist attacks’ but refuse to question governments re uranium mining/the nuclear industry and the possibility of nuclear material being stolen? Once again, all I can do is protest at the stupidity and lack of responsiblity, and shake my head in disbelief! Money is the REAL god! My grandkids future is not important it seems!

Govt won't consult on nuclear waste site

Tara Ravens | | 21st August 2009

Environmentalists are outraged federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson will not consult before deciding on the location of a nuclear waste dump site and have accused him of seeking a "short-term political fix" to the issue.

A letter from about 60 traditional owners of Aboriginal land at Muckaty Station, 120km north of Tennant Creek, was tabled in federal parliament earlier this week.

The land was controversially nominated as a possible site for a waste dump by the Northern Land Council last year.

But the letter, which calls for a meeting with Mr Ferguson, details widespread opposition to a waste facility.

Mr Ferguson's office on Thursday told the ABC there would be no consultation with concerned Northern Territory traditional owners until a final decision was made on where to build a nuclear waste facility.

"Telling people your plans is not consultation," said Beyond Nuclear Initiative spokesperson Natalie Wasley.

"People have been active, assertive and consistent in trying to engage with this process for many years."

The Howard government named the NT as the site for Australia's next repository for low-level nuclear waste in 2005 and passed legislation that allowed it to be forced on the region .

Harts Range, Fishers Ridge, Muckaty Station and Mount Everard were short-listed as possible sites.

In April this year, Mr Ferguson promised the Rudd government would stand by an election commitment to scrap the legislation but he said it would not be giving up the search for a suitable site somewhere in Australia.

"(My) department has done a scientific assessment of a range of potential sites," he said at the time, adding that he had not consulted with any communities about a dump site because he was awaiting the report's findings.

Ms Wasley on Friday said the government had promised "an open, transparent and credible process" but the stance adopted by Mr Ferguson's office had "sidelined community involvement".

"The ALP has previously committed to a new process that was inclusive and accountable," she said.

"Martin Ferguson is replicating the mistakes of the Howard government in his approach to radioactive waste management.

"He is looking for a short-term political fix to a long-term environmental problem."