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13 Feb 2021

Sowaibah Hanifie, ABC News

Legal action launched against NT Government over McArthur River Mine security bond

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13 February 2021

Traditional owners near the Gulf of Carpentaria have launched legal action against the Northern Territory Government over its decision to slash the security bond paid by a massive lead and zinc mine.

The legal proceedings, brought by the Environmental Defenders Officer (EDO) on behalf of Borroloola residents and the Environment Centre NT, relate to the environmental security bond paid by the McArthur River Mine.

The mine is situated about 45 kilometres from the Aboriginal community and some residents have repeatedly raised health, environmental and cultural concerns about the project — including when waste rock combusted and smouldered for several months from 2013.

Security bonds are risk-based payments held by the NT Government to cover the costs of dealing with mining-related environmental harm.

Late in 2020 — at the same time as it controversially announced approval for a doubling of the size of the project's mine pit and waste rock dump — the NT Government reduced the mine's security bond from $519 million to $400 million.

At the time, environmentalists warned the bond was inadequate and could ultimately see taxpayers foot the clean-up bill, but an NT Government spokeswoman said the reduction was due to improvements in technology and waste rock management.

EDO chief executive David Morris is calling that explanation "manifestly inadequate".