Kakadu Mayday Call: Mining Giant Rio Tinto Must Act Now

May 1, 2003

Kakadu Mayday Call: Mining Giant Rio Tinto Must Act Now

Friends of the Earth Australia
Australian Conservation Foundation
Environment Centre NT (ECNT)

Leading environmental groups will call on British based mining giant Rio Tinto to honour its existing commitments and begin rehabilitating the stalled Jabiluka uranium mine site in Kakadu National Park at the company's annual meeting in Perth today. A statement from senior Mirrar traditional owner Yvonne Margarula calling for rehabilitation and clear consent provisions will also be presented at today's meeting.

Last year the Chairman of Rio Tinto, Sir Robert Wilson, gave an unequivocal commitment on BBC television to rehabilitate Jabiluka and to not develop the project without the consent of the region's Mirrar traditional Aboriginal owners but since this time the company has failed to act. Sir Robert retires in October 2003 and there are growing concerns that Rio Tinto will resile from this commitment at this time.

Rio Tinto owns 68% of the controversial Kakadu uranium miner Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) which is pushing to develop Jabiluka despite strong opposition from the Mirrar people and the wider Australian community. Rio Tinto also dominates the ERA Board and management positions and policies.

Concerns over Jabiluka were raised at Rio Tinto's London meeting prior to Easter and the issue dominated ERA's annual meeting held on Monday in Sydney.

"There is a growing tension and an increasing gulf between Rio Tinto's promises and ERA?s actions over Jabiluka," said ACF nuclear campaigner Dave Sweeney. "Jabiluka is a key domestic and international test of Rio Tinto?s self-stated commitment to sustainability and consultation and Rio must put words into action."

The struggle over uranium mining at Jabiluka has been one of the most extensive environmental battles in Australia and has included a peaceful blockade of the site involving over 5000 people, legal challenges and continuing investigation by the Australian Parliament and UNESCO's World Heritage Committee.

"Jabiluka is inside our largest National Park, is World Heritage listed and is one of the world?s truly unique regions," said Friends of the Earth Australia spokesperson Bruce Thompson. "Rio Tinto?s uranium mining operations directly threaten the natural and cultural heritage of the Kakadu region."

Work on the troubled project has been stalled since September 1999 because of Mirrar and wider community opposition and a depressed international uranium market.

"Rio Tinto can not hide from scrutiny or shirk its responsibilities and promises," said Mark Wakeham from the Environment Centre of the Northern Territory. "It has said it will clean up Jabiluka and respect the Mirrar people's wishes ? this meeting is a good place to start. Rio's credibility will erode every day it fails to act."

For further information or comment contact:
Dave Sweeney Australian Conservation Foundation 0408 317 812
Bruce Thompson Friends of the Earth 0417 318 368
Mark Wakeham Environment Centre NT 0412 853 641