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ALP refuses to back Ranger shutdown

Extract from Australian Broadcasting Corporation - ABC Online, on 31 August 2004


The federal Labor Party has refused to support calls for the Northern Territory's Ranger uranium mine to be permanently closed, after a series of recent contamination incidents.

Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) has temporarily suspended operations at Ranger to address issues raised in two new Commonwealth reports.

The issues relate to an incident in March where workers fell ill after drinking and showering in water containing 400 times the legal limit of uranium.

Prime Minister John Howard says today's temporary closure follows a lengthy process.

"Given the material that has come to light, the proper procedure has been followed and right steps have been taken," he said.

Labor's environment spokesman Kelvin Thomson says better monitoring is the answer.

"It's a question of making sure that it complies with appropriate safety and environmental protection requirements," Mr Thomson said.

"Presently both the requirements and the monitoring of them are inadequate.

"That is what needs to be brought up to scratch."

Mr Thomson also says the Commonwealth has contributed to the problems by ignoring a Senate inquiry's recommendations on Ranger's regulation.

"It said the regulatory framework at both Territory and national [levels] involved too little legislative clout to be effective in discouraging incidents and breeches," Mr Thompson said.

"Now, unfortunately, the Howard Government has not acted to address that and to implement the Senate committee's recommendations.

"As a result we've had this culture of complacency."

ERA's hopes

ERA's Harry Kenyon Slaney says the company is taking the matter seriously.

"We have a wide range of regulatory requirements at ERA and frankly, this is our licence to operate," he said.

ERA hopes to reopen the mine on Friday.

Traditional owners say the Northern Territory Government should immediately take action over the contamination incidents.

It is unclear how long it will take the Northern Territory Government to decide whether it will penalise ERA over the contamination incidents.

Earlier today, the Northern Territory Government indicated it would make a decision on possible legal action by the end of the week, but it has now backed away from any timeframe for a decision.

The Gundjehmi Aboriginal Corporation's Justin O'Brien says it should not wait any longer.

"There are two reports. They list an absolute litany of errors. It's led to the shutdown of the mine," Mr O'Brien said.

"It now behoves the Northern Territory Government, we believe, to immediately levy some economic sanction against the mine."

The Greens want the Federal Government to shut down the mine for good.

"Revoke the export licence that exists for Ranger uranium mine," Greens Senator Kerry Nettle said.


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