Australia’s only rare-earth company, Lynas, has told The Echo that last week’s article on the Greens Party, entitled ‘One rainy night in Mullum,’ contained ‘factual inaccuracies and misleading statements.’
Rare-earth minerals are the raw materials used for the manufacture of renewable energy items such as wind turbines, hybrid car batteries, solar panels, circuit boards and magnets.
And while rare-earth min- erals are also used to manufacture parts for cruise missiles and iPhones, their extraction is known to be associated with highly toxic materials such as uranium and thorium.
Lynas’s executive vice- president of corporate affairs, Alan Jury, said that contrary to the statement that Lynas was forced to shift its operations to Malaysia owing to opposition from ‘all political parties’, Lynas possessed regulatory approvals to build its refining operations in Australia and received support from the major parties.
He said, ‘Lynas decided to locate its refining process in a Malaysian industrial park owing to access to the abundant supply of electricity, water, relevant technical expertise and chemical inputs for the refining process that were not readily or competitively available in the Western Australian desert.’
Mr Jury also said that senator Ludlam’s statement that Lynas’s rare earths are ‘radio-active sludge shipped in plastic bags’ was misleading.
‘The radioactivity in Lynas’s rare earths is so low that it is prevented, by transport regulations, from applying a radio-active placard to the load.
‘If every product that was radioactive required similar treatment, then bananas, stone benchtops and garden fertilisers would require similar signage.’
Regarding public opposition in Malaysia, Mr Jury said the company had been ‘active within the community,’ and cited various meetings with local community groups, NGOs and academics.
He maintains that the Malaysian plant poses no health risks and that natu- rally occurring radiation in the waste will be reduced to almost zero and made into roadfill, fertiliser and the like.
‘Waste that doesn’t get used ends up in temporary storage ponds next to the plant,’ he said. ‘These have leak detec- tors and are lined and raised. It’s not a simple “pond”.’
Anti-Lynas seats won in Malaysia
Yet ABC reported last year that candidates ‘running on an anti-Lynas platform won a raft of seats around the plant, in the May general election’.
Bloomberg listed Lynas as the worst performer this year among its index of 11 rare- earths producers and explorers and it lost more than $107 mil- lion last financial year. Lynas’s processing plant in Malaysia started producing late last year, according to Mr Jury.
Byron Shire councillor and realtor Rose Wanchap has quit The Greens party after again siding with pro-development councillors at Thursday’s Council meeting.
Her vote was crucial in blocking an urgency motion by Greens mayor Simon Richardson, which would have seen Council discuss whether to ask the state government to re-evaluate the West Byron development.
If approved, the planned estate of up to 1,100 dwellings opposite the industrial estate would be one of the largest in Byron Shire and the first major development in decades.
Its approval rests with the state government and a decision is expected within weeks.
The Byron Residents’ Group (BRG), who have support from Greens (Crs Richardson, Dey), and independent councillors Spooner and Cameron, are calling on the government to reconsider the de- velopment owing to what they say is a lack of due process and flawed reports.
In particular, the residents’ group say the NSW planning department allowed for consideration of a traffic study that did not follow RTA guidelines and allowed the withholding of studies referring to koala habitat and acid sulfate soil from public exhibitions concerning the rezoning.
During Thursday’s public access Byron Residents’ Group’s Cate Coorey made mention of 2,389 signatories to a petition asking local member Don Page to intervene and stop the rezoning. ‘Of those [signatories], more than half are from people in the 2481 or adjoining postcodes,’ she said.
But concerns by those residents were not shared by councillors Alan Hunter, Chris Cubis, Di Woods, Sol Ibrahim and Rose Wanchap, who voted against mayor Simon Richardson, Crs Paul Spooner, Duncan Dey and Basil Cameron.
In reply to the resident group’s claims, Cr Wanchap told The Echo, ‘Councillors have had briefings from the developers and have been provided with details of studies which they claim are in accordance with the requirements and are of a high standard. We will have to re- view these before the next meeting.
‘There was so little time to research the claims of the Byron Residents’ Group hence my reluctance to agree to the urgency motion.’
Upon hearing the news of Cr Wanchap’s resignation, Greens convener and former councillor, Tom Tabart, called on Cr Wanchap to resign from Council as well.
But that’s unlikely; Cr Wanchap instead told The Echo she will serve out her full term as an independent.
Mr Tabart told The Echo, ‘I welcome the news that Cr Wanchap has finally recognised the irreconcilable differences that have existed between her and the Greens for a long time.
‘Now that she has left the Greens it is her moral duty to also resign as a councillor, having gained that position as a member of the Greens’ election team.’
But Cr Wanchap said, ‘I want to assure the community that despite not being a member of the Greens, I will continue to fight equally for social justice, environmental and financial sustainability that affects the health and wellbeing of the whole community, while striving to create access for the average person to rent or own their own home here in Byron Bay.’
Tensions also ran high during Thursday’s break fol- lowing morning access; a squabble erupted after former Greens council candidate, Jim Beatson, accused Ms Wanchap of a conflict of interest – something she vehemently denies.
Cr Chris Cubis intervened and an argument ensued outside the chambers.
Cr Wanchap told The Echo that she believes there are no pecuniary interests that need to be declared when she votes on the development.
‘I was advised by staff that, as a realtor, there are no financial gains that I could make that relate to West Byron.’
She added that others on Council with day jobs may benefit from the development, which were also not considered a pecuniary interest.
‘It is difficult to make the hard decisions to get the balance right between providing housing for our shire and protecting the environment.
‘With West Byron, we have had numerous workshops, the developers have worked diligently as have staff at the state and local level for years to get the best outcome for the community and this work needs to be recognised and respected.
‘It is clear we have a housing crisis. We need to come together and work on solutions rather than putting up obstacles. I might add that the silent majority could just very well be in agreement. There were 245 submissions in support and 119 against when the application went on public exhibition.’
With the Bentley outcome a fresh momentary victory, the great big Green event, held at St John’s Hall in Mullumbimby last Saturday night, was a celebration of grass-roots activism.
The Echo asked questions of three Green MPs before their appearance, and the night’s bill included federal senator Scott Ludlam (WA), senator Larissa Waters (Qld), and NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham.
What’s your bet on a double dissolution if the budget is blocked?
MP Ludlam: There will most likely be a series of blocked bills that will just pile up month after month until these lunatics produce others. As long as Labor hold, we’ll be sending them back.
At some point they have to decide whether to abandon this disastrous budget or come and talk to us.
What’s your take on Clive Palmer and his ideas on taxation – do you agree that abolishing expected corporate tax earnings would inject billions into the economy?
MP Ludlam: Palmer’s whole policy platform is tax evasion for his mining companies. He ran on that platform, and his cleverness is being able to disguise that while saying he is standing up for mums and dads. That’s real political artistry. But you don’t know what’s policy and what’s been made up on the spot. There’s still an element of genuineness in there that is obviously resonating with people and we shouldn’t ignore that. My prediction is that they won’t last a year once Abbott tries to buy his senators from him with various bribes and break the parliamentary block.
Palmer’s policies have an interesting element of social justice – if he calls a press conference on the treatment of children on Manus Island, we’ll go and stand by him be cause he’s absolutely right. And he’s already proposing to block things in the budget.
Do you know why we don’t have domestic protection for oil and gas reserves like they have in America and WA?
MP Buckingham: What we don’t have in Australia is a national interest test. There’s no question asked by the government and the exporters about the triple bottom line: economic, social and ecological interests. [Mining company] Santos was recently exposed in one of their strategy documents when they were considering exporting. One of the things they recognised early on was that when they went to export they had parity to international prices. They could leverage their conventional gas off that export and get higher prices domestically. So what’s underpinned their business model from day one was higher domestic prices. They say more gas will put downward pressure on prices – well you can do that but it won’t make it cheaper.
Are you all fans of rare- earth mining, which produces solar panels, magnets and computer chipboards as well as considerable toxic waste? Australian rare-earths mining company Lynas moved their processing plant to Malaysia after all political parties rejected their application to operate here.
MP Ludlam: We met a number of times with Lynas, but they’re just going for the dollar. What Lynas tried to do was to export the high value jobs from their processing plants. They do the bulk mining in WA, then ship this radioactive sludge from Fremantle, which is very heavily populated, in plastic bags and it contains a lot of thorium.
So the rare-earth minerals themselves aren’t radioactive, but they tend to co-exist with toxic ones. When it arrives in Malaysia they immediately throw all the thorium and radioactive sludge away into these tailings dams next to the refinery.
And in Malaysia, they have had a real horror show with the rare-earth minerals.
They have basically been tipping the radioactive sludges into the fields. So that sparked a very substantial counter-movement in Malaysia and we’ve been doing everything we can to support them.
I’m not opposed to rare- earth mining, but that doesn’t mean your company should get a free pass on your social and environmental obligations.
MP Buckingham: Our view is that we need them, and we introduced a bill into the NSW upper house called the Responsible Mining Bill.
It recognises we need to keep making some steel and coked coal in the short term, but we need to be smarter about how we produce it.
And there’s certain areas where mining is just too much of a risk.
The NSW government’s new Office of Coal Seam Gas is refusing to answer how much public money is being spent assisting junior gas mining company Metgasco with its proposed drilling in Bentley near Lismore.
It was just one of a few questions raised by The Echo regarding the proposed Bentley mine after the recent NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) report into the Pilliga CSG operation. That report confirmed saline wastewater leached a number of heavy metals, including uranium, into two aquifers.
Additionally, Lock the Gate’s Carmel Flint said, ‘The report [into the Pilliga incident] reveals that the EPA did not conduct any independent sampling of their own, but relied entirely on data provided by the company they were investigating, Santos, and that the NSW Office of Water were effectively sidelined from the process. 170 million litres of toxic wastewater is now sitting above those two groundwater aquifers right now with no clear plan to clean it all up.’
Despite the damning EPA report, a media spokesperson instead replied with general statements regarding the legitimacy of Metgasco’s operation, citing various petroleum legislation, along with ‘over 300 conditions.’
But with only one sample of surface water movements being taken so far, there has been much public concern that testing was not comprehensive enough to ascertain the impact mining may have over all seasons.
The spokesperson said, ‘Richmond Valley Council is providing independent water bore sampling from local creeks and water monitoring bores subject to landholders’ agreement to allow access to their properties. Metgasco is paying for Council to independently oversee the water sampling, which is publicly available on their website.
‘Metgasco has in place an approved groundwater mon-
itoring and modelling plan that was developed in consul- tation with the NSW Office of Water.’
No water production
‘However, as the Metgasco bore well is a gas well and not a coal seam gas well, water production is not expected.
‘Water safeguards include all waste water being cap- tured in fit-for-purpose tanks with at least 20 per cent of the tank required to be left empty and management and transport safeguards in place.
‘This is an exploration core hole to remove a sample of the geological strata. It is not a pilot production gas well like the ones being operated in the Pilliga. Water produced in drilling a core hole is very very minor.’
The spokesperson de- clined to comment on whether they regarded the Pilliga contamination, the subsequent fine of $1,500 and the damning EPA report as responsible governance.
A group of Bentley residents that live near Lismore travelled to Sydney last week to speak to politicians about their concerns over unconventional gas exploration in their area.
Former Byron Shire may- or and now upper house MLC, Jan Barham (Greens), told The Echo, ‘I was very pleased to be able to assist the delegation while they were in the parliament and encour- age other MPs to hear the locals’ fears about their future if Metgasco proceeds.’
‘The Christian Democrats and Robert Borsack from the Shooters and Fishers Party did meet with the Bentley delegation and respectfully heard their side of the story.
‘Many ALP and coalition members also met with the Bentley farmers, but it was extremely disappointing that the premier did not.’
Ms Barham said that many MPs raised questions about the use of police against the protectors.
‘The new premier is now aware of the broad community opposition to CSG on the north coast and the requests for him to review the situation.
‘Many people have concerns that the Bentley exploration approval is the trojan horse of industrial-scale gas production for the north coast.
‘The community are savvy enough to realise that it’s crucial to stop this now, so that the sustainable future that locals want is possible.
‘As I raised in an adjournment speech last week, Mr Baird’s inaugural speech in 2007 stated that he expected the Liberal Party to lead the restoration of a community-based party in this place.
‘He said at the time: “We should never be ashamed of listening to our conscience or to our community – in essence this is why we are here.”
Licences should be reversed
‘Premier Baird should listen to the community and reverse the licence approval and call off the police intervention on a peaceful, democratic response to an unwanted industrialisation of the north coast.
‘This issue will be a test for the new premier and the government and will impact on next year’s election.’
Again state parliament was in dis- array last week with resignations, slush funds, bribe allegations and dodgy appointments debated.
But one other item stood out.
Lennox Head-based upper house MLC Catherine Cusack (Liberal) lashed out at comments by Labor’s Walt Secord in parlia- ment after Mr Secord said Thomas George (Nationals member for Lismore) is ‘a fierce opponent of the Bentley blockade’.
Mr Secord also told parliament Mr George’s son, Stuart, is the com- munity relations manager for Metgasco. ‘This is the bloke who does spin for Metgasco,’ he said.
That prompted Ms Cusack to call out across the floor, ‘withdraw that disgraceful smear.’
When asked for clarification on why it was a smear, Ms Cusack told The Echo, ‘The imputation made was to smear Mr George’s reputation and integrity.’ However when asked if it was a conflict of interest that Mr George’s son, Stuart George, is Metgasco’s communications relations manager, she declined to comment.
Ms Cusack also declined to comment on whether she thought the fossil fuel industry unfairly influences politics and would not say whether she supported lobbyist or donation reform.
But when asked who she supported – either the protesting Bentley residents or her government – she paused and replied, ‘I support my government’s position.’
Despite being cautious with her words, Ms Cusack did elaborate on how the expansion of mining has become a hot-button issue. ‘The mining licences were issued by [former disgraced Labor MP] Ian McDonald. I can’t recall how many throughout NSW but there are a lot.
‘When I saw the map I was very surprised. He took upfront pay- ments from mining companies for the licences, so this has become their legal right. But we have changed that, so now that money is not upfront.’
Ms Cusack was also cagey on whether there is any public support for Metgasco’s planned Bentley operation, apart from Liberal and Nationals MPs themselves.
‘I would personally like to have seen a different approach and wish there had been better engagement earlier in this,’ she said.
‘Compromise makes a good umbrella, but a poor roof,’ said poet James Russell Lowell.
And so was the case at last Thursday’s Council meeting; two development approvals will undoubtedly affect rural residents in two different quiet roads in Myocum.
Councillor Alan Hunter’s farm on Pine- groves Road will now operate a road transport terminal despite strong and unified opposition from neighbours, while in Kingsvale Road an addiction rehabilitation centre will be estab- lished, despite opposition from some neigh- bours. Last week The Echo reported that six of
Cr Hunter’s neighbours contributed to fund a town planner to examine his ‘change of use’ application independently.
Deficient report and application: town planner
Town planner Graham Meineke, who is also a Lismore City Councillor, slammed the staff report, telling Councillors during Thursday’s morning access that ‘the report was deficient, as was the application.’
‘This was initially advertised with a maximum of three deliveries a day, but no data were provided,’ he said. ‘Later, it was changed to ten movements a day. That’s an increase of 300 per cent and as such should go back on exhibition.’ Later Mr Meineke told The Echo that the application ‘should have also had a traffic and noise assessment.’
He said, ‘The distance on Tyagarah Road, which comes off Pinegroves, doesn’t meet Council’s traffic sight, or stopping distance requirements. All northern rivers councils have adopted this and I thought that would be a consideration with this change of use request.’
An attempt failed by Cr Duncan Dey at the meeting to refuse Cr Hunter’s ‘change of use’ application as ‘the site distance for heavy vehicles leaving Pinegroves Road is inadequate as it meets Tyagarah Road.’ Only Crs Cameron and Dey supported that, while a foreshadowed motion by Cr Hunter’s fellow team members, Crs Woods and Cubis, saw the application gain unanimous support (Cr Paul Spooner was absent).
But Cr Hunter, who is a former Nationals Party federal candidate, will have strings attached to his operation. The approval will expire in two years and only a maximum number of ten non-articulated vehicle movements per week are allowed with a maximum unladen weight of four tonnes. The hours of operation will be 7am to 6pm, Monday to Friday. As Cr Hunter had a pecuniary interest, he left the room and did not debate or vote.
One of at least six residents to be affected, Angus Way, told The Echo, ‘Like others who saw the presentations in Council, it was hard to come to terms with.’
‘We struggled with how a transport terminal could be approved without a traffic study or a noise impact statement.
‘That was compounded as no councillor requested them when the deficien- cy was pointed out by both sides of the DA presentations.
‘For a councillor’s development application to be approved after only one question did not give the appearance of a robust debate, especially given the direct impact that this will have on a number of residents; the potential for catastrophic vehicle accidents and the precedent for development it will have on the broader community.
‘We are very concerned about the lack of due diligence in the “Independent Re- port” that was commissioned by Council staff... We feel that the conditions that the council applied to the DA are not able to be measured accurately and will have no impact in the containment of vehicle movements on Tyagarah and Pinegroves Roads.
‘A daylight restriction on heavy vehi- cles is cold comfort to residents who live a couple of metres from a very steep access to a Road Transport Terminal.’
Kingsvale Rd addiction treatment facility
Councillors voted on another Myocum application, which will allow the conversion and expansion of existing dwelling on Kingsvale Road, to create a ‘transitional group home’, or addiction treatment facility.
Proponents and opposers addressed Council on The Nungkari Treatment Centre, as it is proposed, during morn- ing access. Speaking against, resident Jon Veranese raised concerns over security, the lack of public transport and police presence in the area.
‘Our lifestyle will be affected,’ he said.
‘What happens if this is on-sold or fails?’ he asked.
The facility’s developer Kylie Beattie spoke in favour. ‘I was treated in a facility like this [proposal] and it saved my life.’
‘We bought the land after meeting with Council and engaged a town planner.’ She told councillors a lot had been invested and wanted to demonstrate they were addressing residents’ concerns.
‘There are many uneducated views about addiction,’ she said, and added the facility would cater more towards eating disorders and the like.
Cr Wanchap was the only councillor who voted against the motion and spoke about the precedent it would be setting.