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Traditional Owners protest against mining at Jabiluka

Rudi Maxwell -

Mirarr Traditional Owners have protested outside Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) annual general meeting in Darwin, accusing the company of dishonesty regarding the Jabiluka mineral lease.

Senior Mirarr Traditional Owner Yvonne Margarula said ERA, which operated the Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu, was lying.

"They say they have never heard from us about not mining Jabiluka - these people are the only ones in the country who don't hear us," Ms Margarula said. 

"We are here again today, now listen to us again: Jabiluka is sacred country and we will always say no."

The relationship between the Mirarr people and ERA has been in tatters since the company announced in March it had applied for a renewal of the Jabiluka mineral lease within Kakadu, claiming that was the best way to protect cultural heritage at the site.

All mining operations and uranium processing at Ranger ceased on January 8, 2021. ERA's mineral lease is due to expire in August 2024.

Earlier in April, Rio Tinto, which owns 86.3 per cent of ERA, announced a new management services agreement for the rehabilitation of Ranger in a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange.

Chief executive Brad Welsh told the AGM that ERA has a care and maintenance agreement with the Mirarr traditional owners of the Jabiluka deposit that includes a veto over development unless approved by the Mirarr. 

"While the Jabiluka mineral lease holds a large, high-quality uranium ore body of global significance, ERA has no development plan for the deposit and renewing the lease extends the long-term care and maintenance provisions for the Mirarr as well as, crucially, the veto right," he said.

"ERA has protected the cultural heritage at Jabiluka for almost two decades so far. 

"The agreement and veto right only remain in place if the lease is renewed, we therefore believe the renewal of ERA's mineral lease remains the best way to protect Jabiluka's cultural heritage."

But Mirarr traditional owner Corben Mudjandi said they wanted the government to permanently protect Jabiluka and Kakadu. 

"The risks are enormous, ERA cannot be trusted," he said.

On Friday, Mirarr met with Northern Territory Chief Minister Eva Lawler.

Many of the Mirarr at Wednesday's action were involved in the protests of the late 1990s and early 2000s when more than 5000 people travelled to Kakadu to say no to uranium mining at Jabiluka.

Thousands more also sent postcards of the now-famous 'Stop Jabiluka' hand symbol to Ms Margarula pledging their support - and she showed a handful at the protest.

"If we need people to stand with us again, I know they are there," she said.

"Jabiluka is sacred, I want to protect it for all of us. Jabiluka will not be mined."

Uranium prices have risen over the past year, meaning several previously mothballed projects in Australia and overseas are being considered for reopening, including the Honeymoon mine in South Australia, 80km northwest of Broken Hill.

Ranger was Australia's longest continuous uranium mine. 

The new agreement with Rio for rehab of the mine is expected to be implemented in the second quarter of 2024, with a transition period of two to three months, and an updated rehabilitation timeline for the Ranger project will be announced.

Either Rio Tinto or ERA may terminate the new management service agreement if there is an insolvency event.

Rudi Maxwell - AAP

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