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Spectata Politica: Gold mine headache for state in upcoming election

with Dr Robin Tennant-Wood

Another election and again Dargues Reef gold mine looks like becoming the proverbial albatross for the state government in Monaro.

In the weeks leading up to the 2011 New South Wales election the previous Labor government appeared to be in a hurry to approve the Dargues Reef goldmine at Majors Creek. The mining proposal from Cortona was opposed by the Majors Creek and Araluen communities due to water contamination risks from what is a highly toxic mining process.

Now only months away from the 2015 election and the Baird government, looking to win a second term, is again facing opposition from the same communities. Dargues Reef mine, now owned by Unity and having been operational for just on 12 months, is seeking approval to begin processing gold on-site. This process was specifically ruled out in the original approval.

Gold processing, known as ‘gold cyanidation’, uses cyanide to leach the gold from lower grade ore. It is banned by legislation in two states of the USA and in two member states of the EU. In the late 1990s BHP’s mismanagement of the process in Papua New Guinea caused irreparable damage to the Ok Tedi River affecting the natural environment and the populations of 120 villages dependent upon the river for water and food production.

Just weeks before the 2011 state election, ABC Rural Radio reported that National party candidate and now Member for Monaro, John Barilaro, had visited the communities of Araluen and Majors Creek and told them that “he didn’t want to see mining trash the environment or farming.”

His government subsequently approved the mine, which has breached environmental conditions and been fined by the EPA four times in 12 months.

 Response from candidates

In relation to this latest development, I contacted the offices of both Barilaro and former Member for Monaro, Steve Whan, now MLC and Labor’s candidate for Monaro in March.

Whan said that while he is on record as supporting the mine prior to the last election, the processing is not part of the original approval and he does not support it without it going through the proper channels of an EIS and full public consultation.

Barilaro’s office said that he had not made any public statement on the issue and was waiting for further information before doing so.

As any changes to the mine development need to be approved at state, not local, level it is vital that both major party candidates are clear on where they stand so that voters are able to make a clear and informed choice at the ballot box.

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