BHP Billiton Shareholders must hold Olympic Dam mine to the law

November 30, 2006

Friends of the Earth Brisbane, attending yesterday’s BHP Billiton Annual General Meeting in Brisbane, say that shareholders have a lot more to lose than their money if they continue to allow the Olympic dam uranium mine to operate outside the law.

Yesterday, BHP Billiton Chairman Don Argus told shareholders that they would not make a commitment to relinquishing their extra-legal privileges granted to former owners, Western Mining Corporation, under the Roxby Downs Indenture Act. 

The Indenture exempts the Olympic Dam mine from key legislation meant to protect the community including: The Aboriginal Heritage Act 1988, the Development Act 1993, the Environmental Protection Act 1993, the Freedom of Information Act 1991, the Mining Act 1971 and the Natural Resources Act 2004 (including the Water Resources Act 1997).

Spokesperson for Friends of the Earth, Kim Stewart, asked Mr Argus if the board would relinquish those legal exemptions to maintain his companies stated commitment to the “highest ethical standards” and the “strictest environmental and health standards”.

Mr Argus argued that they would continue to benefit from those legal exemptions, that it was “not uncommon” in the mining industry.  Mr Argus says that the shareholders would have to trust his word that they were doing the right thing.  He says, “we will apply to the highest standards...we are acting within the law.”

Ms Stewart says that, “BHP's refusal to relinquish special exemptions from basic environmental laws, suggest that its normal practices would be in breach of them."

“While they operate outside the law and with no accountability to environmental and social concerns, the community has no assurance of culpability for accidents.”

“Their exemption from the Freedom of Information Act means that if they have an accident, a radioactive a leak or destroy aboriginal artefacts, we may never know.  It is within the realm of possibility that these things may happen.  In 1994, the Olympic Dam mine had a considerable leak of radioactive water from its tailings dam that went undiscovered and unremedied for years.  Things do go wrong.  The community needs to know it can be protected.”

“The Chairman's word does not constitute a legally binding commitment to protect the natural and cultural environment from harm and for future generations.  It behoves the world's biggest mining corporation to set the example of good environmental and ethical practice and not simply
pay it lip service.

"Until they relinquish the Roxby Downs Indentures, their admissions of best practice, sustainability and integrity with regards to the Olympic Dam mine will remain a sham.”

For more information

Friends of the Earth Brisbane Kim Stewart 0413 397839