Fairfax: Ranger Mine: ERA attracts ire from local community over uranium rehab

Publish Date:
21st April 2014

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by Peter Ker


The relationship between Energy Resources of Australia and a crucial group of indigenous people appears to be deteriorating, after the miner raised doubts about its ability to pay for the rehabilitation of the Ranger uranium mine near Kakadu.

The open pits at Ranger have already come to the end of their working lives, and the only chance of further mining is if an exploration campaign on site, known as ''Ranger 3 Deeps'', is successful.

ERA surprised its stakeholders last month when it suggested it might struggle to pay for the rehabilitation if Ranger 3 Deeps did not go ahead.

''If the Ranger 3 Deeps mine is not developed, in the absence of any other successful development, ERA may require an additional source of funding to fully fund the rehabilitation of the Ranger Project Area,'' the company said in its annual report.

ERA is 68 per cent owned by Rio Tinto, but Rio boss Sam Walsh indicated last week that Rio had already contributed to the rehabilitation costs at Ranger when it participated in a $500 million equity raising for ERA in 2011.

''There was a rights issue at ERA to fund the rehabilitation work and those funds are still sitting within that business,'' said Mr Walsh.

''[ERA] is a public Australian company and clearly that is an issue for them.

''We are clearly shareholders, but it's a matter for all shareholders and a matter for the ERA board.''

The comments have worried the local indigenous group - the Mirarr people - whose permission is required before ERA can conduct any further mining at Ranger.

Justin O'Brien, who runs the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation for the Mirarr people said the group's land was being held to ransom by the miners.

''The attitude of Rio and ERA shows that little has changed in more than three decades since [land rights campaigner] Galarrwuy Yunupingu described talks over the Ranger mine as 'like negotiating with a gun to my head','' he said. ''The mining giants have made enormous profits at the expense of Mirarr traditional lands and are now holding the World Heritage-listed area to ransom.''

ERA has already started some rehabilitation work at Ranger, has made provisions and also has a trust for rehabilitation in place with the Australian government, which was holding $63.9 million at December 31.

A spokesman for ERA said the company's long-term business plan was to ensure the business could meet its rehabilitation obligations.