When former Environment Minister Melissa Price approved a uranium mine in Western Australia the day before the federal election was called, she chose to set weak environmental conditions for the project despite knowing that decision could result in subterranean species going extinct.
The rationale for Minister Price’s controversial approval of Cameco’s proposed Yeelirrie uranium mine is set out in a statement of reasons obtained by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF).
The Statement of Reasons shows her Department recommended two possible conditions for the mine and Minister Price chose conditions that do not require the proponent to ensure it will avoid the extinction of species.
Minister Price noted there was a risk this choice would result in the extinction of stygofauna – tiny subterranean animals that have evolved to live in a very specific groundwater habitat.
The statement of reasons also concedes that the Yeelirrie mine would result in the ‘complete loss’ of the entire western population of a rare saltbush – one of only two that exists – wiping out a third of the species’ extent and occurrence.
“Radioactive risks and extinction last longer than any politician, so these deserve genuine assessment, not backroom fast tracking,” said ACF nuclear free campaigner Dave Sweeney.
“Australia’s environment laws are failing, with politicians putting the interests of big companies ahead of nature, Traditional Owners and local communities.
“We need laws that protect nature and take the short-term politics out of decisions with long-term implications.”
Before Minister Price’s approval the WA Environmental Protection Authority had recommended the mine not be approved because of the extinction risk to the stygofauna and the harm it would do to other wildlife like the Malleefowl, Princess parrot and Greater bilby.
At the time Minister Price approved the Yeelirrie mine, which is in her electorate of Durack, the project was subject to legal appeal by senior Tjiwarl native title holders and conservationists. Ms Price had previously said she would not make a decision on Yeelirrie until the Supreme Court had ruled on the challenge.