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Northern Territory: Minister criticises federal moves to take control of uranium mining.

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Thursday 4 August 2005

Northern Territory: Minister criticises federal moves to take control of uranium mining


MARK COLVIN: A dramatic power play between the Commonwealth and Northern Territory Governments could open the floodgates to new uranium mines in the Top End. 


In an unexpected move, the Federal Government today seized control over the approval process for new mines in the Territory, effectively cutting the Northern Territory Government out of the picture. 


The Federal Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane says it was the Territory's own decision to "abdicate" its responsibility, as he put it, over uranium, because it opposes any new mines. 


But the Territory Government has accused the Commonwealth of "bulldozing" it into the new arrangements, as Anne Barker reports. 


ANNE BARKER: In the words of Federal Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane today, when it comes to uranium mining, the Northern Territory is now open for business. 


IAN MACFARLANE: It was made clear by the Territory Government that they were abdicating their part of decision-making on uranium mining, and on that basis, and under the Northern Territory Mining Act, the Commonwealth will assume responsibility for the approval of uranium mines. 


ANNE BARKER: The Federal Government has always had ultimate control over uranium in the Northern Territory.  


But under a deal struck with the previous CLP Government, the Commonwealth agreed to share those powers with the Territory, effectively giving it the right to veto any expansion of the uranium industry. 


And like federal Labor, the Northern Territory Government is ideologically opposed to any new uranium mines, and campaigned on that policy at the recent Territory election. 


But Ian Macfarlane says the NT has now handed control of uranium to the Commonwealth.  


IAN MCFARLANE: For reasons of brining certainty to the uranium industry in the Northern Territory, the Commonwealth must accept that responsibility, and where the Northern Territory is stepping away from it we will give certainty to the resources sector, providing all Native Title, environmental, and other safety issues are met prior to the application being lodged with us. 


ANNE BARKER: Ian Macfarlane says today's decision isn't the outcome he expected or even wanted. 


But he says the Territory Government's continued resistance to new mines forced it to seek legal advice so uranium mining could proceed in the Northern Territory. 


And with a dozen or so companies already exploring for uranium, worth potentially billions of dollars, he says the Territory's stance was nonsensical. 


IAN MCFARLANE: There is a worldwide demand for uranium at the moment - $US 29 a pound, and people literally coming and beating on your door. It's simply not feasible to refuse the opportunity to develop a resource based on a political whim. 


ANNE BARKER: But the Northern Territory Government denies it's abdicated responsibility, and Mines Minister Kon Vatskalis says it’s the Commonwealth that overruled the NT. 


KON VATSKALIS: We didn’t abdicate. We will not roll over, simply the Federal Government bulldozed us, and they said tough, we are going to say that you are going to have uranium mines in the Territory, simple as that. 


ANNE BARKER: Only one uranium mine operates in the Territory - the Ranger mine surrounded by Kakadu National Park, and it's due to close in about six years. 


Traditional owners have long vetoed the proposed mine at Jabiluka, but a French company still hopes to mine another deposit inside Kakadu.  


Labor's Federal MP Warren Snowdon says today's decision should ring alarm bells for all Territorians. 


WARREN SNOWDON: I think the Federal Minister for Resources has today fired the first shot in the dismembering of the Self Government Act, by announcing the Commonwealth be using its powers to take over the approval of uranium mining. 


ANNE BARKER: Hasn't the Commonwealth, though, always had the power to override the Territory on uranium? 


WARREN SNOWDON: Well, that isn't the issue here. The issue is they've chosen to use the power, and now, because the Commonwealth Government doesn't like the outcome of the Northern Territory election, where the Chief Minister undertook not to develop any new uranium mines, he's decided, well, bad luck, you're going to have them anyway. 


ANNE BARKER: Could this now open the floodgates for new uranium mines in the Northern Territory?