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Adjournment Speech: Dorrigo antimony mine

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 13 May 2014

Tonight I will speak on two projects. They are separated by thousands of kilometres, but both highlight the problems of a one-sided view of the economy-that is, that mining and power production take precedence over all else. Time and again, we see large companies that propose dangerous projects claim they will benefit the local community, but, meanwhile, they walk all over those communities. These companies often ignore local industries as their activities damage the diversity of local economies and the local environment. Internationally, we need to develop a stronger economic diversity that does not prioritise big corporate interests at the expense of our communities.

The two issues I will cover are the proposal for an antimony mine by Anchor Resources and its owner, China Shandong Jinshunda, in Wild Cattle Creek near Dorrigo; and a hydro-electric power station in Chile's Patagonia-clearly, this is far in distance, but very relevant, as it is part-owned by the Australian company Origin Energy. Both of these projects threaten local communities, environments and economies, and should not go ahead.

On my recent trip to Coffs Harbour, it became apparent that a number of people are very concerned about the prospect of reopening a 100-year-old antimony mine in the region. Anchor Resources, owned by China Shandong Jinshunda, is currently scoping the region for antimony, as well as gold and copper.

Antimony is a toxic element which works on humans in a similar way to arsenic. In fact, arsenic is a by-product of mining antimony. Antimony mining has a problematic history, with older mines known to leak, as well as often leaving the areas in which they are developed uninhabitable. In fact, we know that older mines have resulted in major contaminations for over 40 years.

The Hillgrove mine on the Southern Tablelands serves as a concerning example. In 2009, a spill of up to 3,000 litres into a nearby creek contained high levels of antimony, arsenic and lead. The company was fined $50,000 by the Land and Environment Court. But of course this cannot undo the environmental damage. Then, as recently as 2011, a sediment erosion control dam at another antimony mine near Hillgrove overflowed, releasing arsenic, copper and zinc into the Macleay River which will be detectable for millennia.

Anchor Resources have already recorded elevated levels of antimony, 126 times the Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council's guidelines for drinking water, in the waterways near their exploration lease. It is evident that the risk of pollution from antimony mining is very real, and, not surprisingly, local communities are deeply concerned about this. The mine is on the Dorrigo Plateau, a location combining steep terrains with high rainfall-sometimes, as high as three metres per year. As my colleague in the New South Wales Parliament John Kaye has pointed out, this makes containing any run-off very difficult. It is not a good combination for mining such a poisonous substance. Further still, it is within the Nymboida River catchment which is where the rivers feed into the 30,000 megalitre Shannon Creek Dam rise. This catchment provides drinking and potable water for more than 100,000 residents between Coffs Harbour and Clarence Valley. As we see with coal seam gas and long-wall coalmining, the threat to water is clearly evident. At a time when we are facing the prospect of increasing weather events from climate change, actions that jeopardise our water supplies are downright criminal. Carol Vernon, the Greens deputy convenor, a local resident in this area and a former candidate for the seat of Cowper, has raised her concerns about the antimony mine. The rainforests in the region are part of the World Heritage listed Gondwana Rainforests of Australia-one of New South Wales's answers to the gorgeous forests of Tasmania. It is home to a range of four rainforest varieties. One of the unique aspects of the Australian landscape is the variation, and here you can see a variety of ecosystems within quite close range. The Dorrigo Plateau really is unique.

Not surprisingly, these forests are rich habitat for vulnerable species, including red-legged pademelons, spotted-tailed quolls, powerful owls, wompoo fruit doves and sphagnum frogs. Dorrigo Environment Watch have located both the giant barred frog and the stuttering frog near drilling sites. They have had their data validated and have called on the New South Wales government to submit a notice of action to the Australian government to enact the EPBC. Unfortunately, I would hazard a guess that, if the federal government's response is anything like it has been to Tasmania's World Heritage listing, this area is in trouble.

I have noted that the federal member for Cowper, Mr Luke Hartsuyker, has called the standard battle cry for the mining industry: 'It'll create jobs.' Yet Mr Hartsuyker ignores the very real risk that the mine would pose to the industries which are already prominent in the regions, industries that support many more jobs than the mining sector would potentially create in this area. It is home to Australia's southernmost cane fields and to tourism and is a rich area for prawn fishing. These are diverse industries which underpin the local economy. Should they be affected by mining, the consequences would be dire.

Of course, the company have moved to reassure residents, listing all of the processes which they will have to go through, feasibility and regulation, but we know that most companies see these as box-ticking exercises and indeed try to assert a right to mine once they have put in the forms. A recent article on the topic in The Conversation points out that they know only too well the risks involved.

China is the world's largest supplier of antimony, about 75 per cent in 2011. In 2009, an accident at a Chinese antimony mine owned by Hsikwangshan Twinkling Star Co. Ltd, then the world's biggest producer of antimony, led to 26 deaths. The company followed by closing down their antimony mines, sending the price skyrocketing.

The evidence is clear: mining antimony is dangerous. It is dangerous to the local environment, to the local economy, to water supplies and to its workers. The intention to mine antimony at Wild Cattle Creek is all about money. There is no doubt that communities will continue to campaign to prevent the mine from going ahead. I would like to commend the work of Dorrigo Environment Watch, and my colleagues John Kaye and Mark Graham, who are following the developments in the region and working to raise awareness and ensure that the antimony mine being proposed does not go ahead.


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