A uranium miner says uncertainty over the future of an outback town near the Northern Territory’s Kakadu National Park as the company prepares to pull out has placed residents in limbo.
Jabiru town was built for the Ranger mine which has been operating for more than three decades, but Aboriginal land owners have refused to back the renewal of its mining authority beyond 2021.
A report commissioned by Rio Tinto’s Energy Resources of Australia shows the removal of critical infrastructure including electricity and water supply from the 1100-strong town could lead to the displacement of residents and severe job losses.
It may also reduce health and education services, and result in the closure of the airport, which would affect tourism.
The report found residents and business owners were already suffering anxiety over an inability to plan and make decisions about their lives.
ERA estimates it will cost $507 million to clean up and rehabilitate the site, which must be reintegrated into the surrounding World Heritage-listed national park by 2026.
“There is still uncertainty about the future and while there may be a widely held view that Jabiru can have a future beyond 2021, it is not yet known what that might look like, what changes may take place or when,” ERA chief executive Andrea Sutton said.
ERA is not developing a road map for Jabiru beyond the lease expiration when production stops, which is expected to cost 350 jobs.
Traditional owners are in talks with the commonwealth and NT governments over a future plan, while negotiations over a new township lease are under way.
Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, which acts for the Mirarr traditional owners, outlined the environmental and cultural concerns behind the decision to cease mining.
“You have Australia’s largest national park, indigenous communities living downstream from the mine and a very sensitive ecosystem around it,” chief executive Justin O’Brien said.
He said Jabiru was the gateway to Kakadu and should continue to function without the mine as a tourism hub and regional services centre.
O’Brien warned that if the NT government did not urgently commit to the town’s future it would effectively be demolished.
“We’ve seen a steady erosion of the amenity of the town, and it’s a self- perpetuating down spiral; the more people who leave, the worse it gets, the more people leave,” he said.
“The opportunities for certain business to expand or even exist have been lost, and it’s been over 14 years since we first wrote to both tiers of government bringing these issues up.” AAP