2008 Annual General Meeting

2008 BHP Billiton AGM - Melbourne, November 27, 2008.

In this webpage: Kevin Buzzacott's statement to the AGM, and some media articles.

Kevin Buzzacott - Arabunna Elder
Statement presented at BHP Billiton's AGM
27 November 2008, Melbourne.

You BHP, the biggest mining company in the world, and here we are the oldest peoples in the world. You should be listening to us about this land and the water.

Two years ago when you BHP bought out Western Mining Corporation you bought a bad investment, you didn’t ask us, you didn’t consult with us. In the past I’ve told WMC that we didn’t want them to continue mining.

We wanted them to stop mining and we wanted them to stop taking the sacred water out of the Great Artesian Basin. Now you BHP are doing the same thing and you want to make it bigger and you want to make it open cut.

There should never be an open cut uranium mine in the desert.

Do not expand this mine. We don’t want an open cut mine. We do not want any more water taken out of the Great Artesian Basin we want that to stop.

To the Shareholders of BHP don’t invest any more money into this development, you will have a lot on your conscience. Sooner or later you will have to pay for the rehabilitation of that land, and you should know by now that this land is sacred.

We don’t know if you shareholders understand the impacts of what you’re doing to the Arabunna people, the Kokatha people and other tribes around that area. You don’t understand what you’re doing to the land and the culture.

My question to you BHP is, is it possible to close down the Olympic Dam Uranium mine, immediately, and if not immediately when is the soonest time possible that you can shut this mine down.

Can you Shareholders make a decision in this meeting right now to close down the Olympic Dam Uranium mine or to take your shares and invest in something else … and are you prepared to compensate all Aboriginal People around Roxby Downs to rehabilitate that country?

Kevin Buzzacott - Arabunna Elder

Aboriginal elder takes on BHP
Thursday 27 November 2008
Publication: AAP Financial News
By Jeff Turnbull 

An Aboriginal elder has taken on the heavyweights at BHP's annual general meeting to urge the mining giant to abandon plans to expand its Olympic Dam mine because it was taking "sacred water". 

Kevin Buzzacott patiently waited for almost three hours for question time at BHP Billiton's AGM in Melbourne on Thursday when he meekly stood up to the microphone and read out a prepared speech. 

He politely addressed the board of the world's biggest miner, asking them to stop the planned expansion of the copper, gold and uranium mine in South Australia.

"Do not expand this mine. We don't want an open cut mine; we do not want any more water taken out of the Great Artesian Basin; we want that to stop," Mr Buzzacott said. 

He was supported by about 100 protesters who gathered on the Melbourne Park lawn outside the venue to oppose the expansion, which would make Olympic Dam one of the largest mines in the world. 

BHP chief executive Marcus Kloppers told Mr Buzzacott the company had been in negotiations for the past three years with indigenous communities in the area. 

"We have an agreement with main aboriginal groups affected by the mine," Mr Kloppers said. 
 "We appreciate your perspective but we are unable to agree to your request...." 

Another shareholder, documentary filmmaker David Bradbury, asked the board if it had done forward estimates on how much they would have to pay in future class actions for people, including mine workers, adversely affected by the mining. 

Mr Kloppers told Mr Bradbury BHP had undertaken rigorous environmental studies covering the impact of expanding Olympic Dam mining, which ran to hundreds of pages. 

BHP is planning to expand Olympic Dam with new open pit operations in addition to the existing underground mine. 

The protesters claimed the miner is legally able to override important environmental legislation because of the South Australian Roxby Downs Indenture Act. 

They tried to get their message across in a silent protest that included protesters dressed in anti-contamination wear standing on barrels supposedly filled with uranium. 

They also had a five piece band and a barbecue to make the day more of a fun outing than a hard core, in-your-face, anti-nuclear demonstration that could turn shareholders against them. 

Giants must be accountable
By John Poppins
The Canberra Times
Thursday 27 November 2008

Today, BHP Billiton holds its annual general meeting in Melbourne. Many shareholders will attend, myself included. My family and I are beneficiaries of this great company's mining success but, like increasing numbers of BHP Billiton shareholders, we are troubled by the long-term effects of some aspects of its mining projects, especially Olympic Dam at Roxby Downs in South Australia.
Our company plans to turn the Olympic Dam into the largest open- cut mine in the world. Most people would expect such a huge expansion to be subject to regulatory standards as rigorous as those imposed on smaller projects. This is not the case.
Western Mining Corporation, the original developers of the mine, negotiated exemption from South Australian state laws on environmental protection, natural resources (including water), Aboriginal heritage and even Freedom of Information. BHP inherited these exemptions when it bought Western Mining. These commercial privileges are unprecedented, undemocratic and inconsistent with modern practices and government promises.
Olympic Dam's expansion statistics are stunning. Production of radioactive tailings at Roxby Downs will increase to 70 million tonnes a year if the planned expansion goes ahead, which seems very likely. The tailings dams now rise over 20m above the landscape and cover many square kilometres, clearly visible from space on Google Earth.
There have already been numerous spills and leaks most significantly in 1994, when it was revealed that three billion litres had leaked from tailings dams over two years. They contain a toxic, acidic soup of radioactive and heavy metals and are responsible for large numbers of bird deaths - more than 100 deaths in a four-day period in 2004. The tailings will remain as a radioactive and toxic dust long after the minehas expired, to be transported by wind, rain, birds and animals over centuries to come.
The ''Sustainable Development'' pages of the BHP Billiton company's website set out guiding principles for its environmental and social operation. These appear very reassuring. However, these principles conflict with the extraordinary exemptions granted and continuing under the South Australian government's Roxby Downs Indenture Ratification Act of 1982.
Future mining plans involve huge water usage. Exports of uranium from Roxby Downs are expected to increase from 4000 tonnes a year to 19,000 tonnes. Copper production is expected to increase from 180,000 tonnes a year to 750,000 tonnes.
Olympic Dam now uses 35 million litres of water a day from the GreatArtesian Basin. Expansion would require 150 million litres a day: assuming 42 million litres from the Great Artesian Basin, the remainder would come from a proposed desalination plant at Port Bonython which will greatly affect the ecology at the head of theSpencer Gulf. The southern edge of the Great Artesian Basin, along the Oodnadatta Track, feeds the precious Mound Springs, each with its own unique isolated ecosystem.
The water already drawn from here has damaged the flow into these springs. It would be appropriate to decrease rather than increase usage from the basin. Incredibly, BHP pays nothing for this water it extracts from the Great Artesian Basin, a vital part of Australia's dwindling water resource.
Electricity demand for the expanded mine will increase from 120 megawatts to 690 megawatts: that's equivalent to 42 per cent of South Australia's total electricity consumption. There appears to be no plan to acquire power from renewable energy sources and, even worse, there is no Government requirement for it to do so. This is truly shocking, when scientists all over the globe warn us that we must reduce energy usage from fossil fuels to make any impact on climate change.
The Roxby Downs Indenture Act is a startling document, deliberately setting aside the rule of law to help the mining industry. An example of the sweeping nature of the legal privileges in the Indenture Act is the statement that, ''The law of the State is so far modified as is necessary to give full effect to the Indenture and the provisions of any law of the State shall accordingly be construed subject to the modifications that take effect under this Act. ...
In the case of any inconsistency between the provisions of any Act or law and of the Indenture, the provisions of the Indenture shall prevail ...'' The Aboriginal Heritage Act 1988 is the key law aimed at protecting indigenous heritage in South Australia. However, under the Indenture Act, BHP Billiton is in a legal position to determine what consultation occurs with traditional owners, who is consulted, and the nature of any consultation that takes place.
Our company can decide the level of protection that Aboriginal heritage sites receive and which sites are recognised. Our company claims that it complies with Aboriginal heritage legislation. If so, it should be willing to relinquish the extraordinary legal privileges applying toOlympic Dam.
It is ironic that BHP Billiton supports Reconciliation Australia's good governance program and has provided over $2 million to Reconciliation Australia, yet will not relinquish its exemptions from the Aboriginal Heritage Act. It seems a case of ''Do as I say, not as I do''. When asked about Olympic Dam, BHP Billiton chairman Don Argus said in November 2006 that ''we will apply the highest standards ... we are acting within the law''. However, the mine does not operate within the laws applying elsewhere and to other enterprises in SA. The legal privileges enshrined in the Indenture Act were contentious when they were introduced in 1982 and are even less appropriate as the legislative framework for the proposed expansion of the mine today.
The South Australian Labor Government has refused to commit to repeal the privileges, even though they are inconsistent with its policy of applying the ''strictest environmental standards'' to uranium mining.
The BHP Shareholders for Social Responsibility are a loosely connected group of shareholders who have an interest in some of the issues created by Olympic Dam. Some other issues taken up by the group include problems caused by lack of protective buffer zones whenmining coal directly beneath rivers which provide a significant portion of Sydney's diminishing water supply, and the disposal of mine waste into the ocean off West Papua, in an area nominated for World Heritage listing.

A retired engineer, John Poppins acts as coordinator of BHP Billiton Shareholders for Social Responsibility and will attend the company's annual general meeting in Melbourne today.

Posted on November 29, 2008 by Coober Pedy Regional Times

At its Annual General Meeting yesterday, BHP Billiton CEO Marius Kloppers said the company will not relinquish the legal privileges contained in the Roxby Downs Indenture Act. This 1982 legislation largely exempts the Roxby Downs (Olympic Dam) uranium/copper mine from South Australian environmental and Aboriginal heritage protection laws and also curtails the Freedom of Information Act.

Kloppers said yesterday that the mine expansion requires the certainty that only an Indenture Act can Provide. Perhaps so, but that’s no excuse for weakened environmental and Aboriginal heritage protections. BHP Billiton proposes digging a pit of about 20 cubic kilometres, increasing uranium production to 19,000 tonnes per year, increasing water consumption to 150 million litres daily, and increasing radioactive tailings production to 70 million tonnes per year. Yet the company wants to retain its wide-ranging exemptions from the SA Environment Protection Act and the Natural Resources Act (including water management issues).

Mike Rann’s Labor government in SA has promised to apply the “strictest environmental standards” to uranium mining but seems unwilling to budge from the current practice of applying far weaker standards at Roxby Downs than those that apply to every other project in the state.

The projected annual export of 19,000 tonnes of uranium is sufficient to fuel 95 nuclear power reactors, which will produce enough plutonium to build 2,850 nuclear weapons each year. BHP Billiton (and state and federal governments) could minimise the risk of diversion through careful selection of uranium customer countries - but they don’t. The Roxby Downs expansion is heavily geared towards China with BHP Billiton planning to export 1.6 million tonnes of uranium/copper concentrate to China annually.

BHP Billiton also wants to export uranium to Russia even though International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards inspectors haven’t set foot there since 2001 and there is no requirement in the Howard/Putin uranium agreement for any IAEA inspections in future. Nor is there any provision in the Howard/Putin agreement for Australian inspection of nuclear facilities and stockpiles in Russia so we would be entirely reliant on international inspections - which are non-existent! Foreign Minister Stephen Smith will decide whether to allow uranium sales to Russia in the coming months.

Jim Green             
Friends of the Earth