In 2016, the EPA recommended rejection of the Yeelirrle mine.

Minister questioned over WA mine approval

Friday, 26 April, 2019 - 09:39

Federal Labor is calling on Environment Minister Melissa Price to explain why she approved a controversial uranium mine in Western Australia the day before the national election was called. 

"I want to find out what on earth has happened," Labor's environment spokesman Tony Burke told ABC radio on Friday.

The Cameco-owned Yeelirrie uranium mine, about 500 kilometres north of Kalgoorlie, was given the tick of approval by Ms Price on April 10, according to an Environment Department document. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison triggered the May 18 election on April 11.

The Conservation Council of Western Australia and traditional owners are in the midst of a legal fight over the mine after taking their battle to the Court of Appeal last month.

In 2016, WA's Environmental Protection Authority recommended rejection of the Yeelirrle mine, after the proposal failed to meet one of nine strict factors.

EPA chairman Tom Hatton said the project failed to meet one of nine key environmental factors examined by the independent board.

“Of the nine factors assesses, one – subterranean fauna – was unable to meet the EPA’s environmental objectives,” he said at the time.

He said the proposal would threaten the viability of some species of animals that live below ground, particularly stygofauna.

However, state approval was given just weeks before the WA election in 2016 by the Liberal government.

The federal government had previously indicated it wouldn't make a decision until the WA appeal was complete.

Mr Burke says no detail is known about the approval and the minister has some explaining to do.

"You need to know whether the conditions that have been put in place are fair, you need to know whether the environmental assessment has been dealt with rigorously," he said.

"The only person who can defend that is the minister."

Senior government minister Mathias Cormann has claimed the approval was given on March 5 but additional administration meant it wasn't finalised until this month.

"This is business as usual," he told Sky News, adding the mine faced 32 "strict" environmental conditions.

Greens senator Jordon Steele-John is calling on Labor to tear up the "absolutely disgraceful" approval if it wins government. 

"We cannot have a situation where this mine goes ahead," he told Sky News.

Cameco Australia general manager Simon Williamson said it was a rigorous and extensive environmental assessment process.

“While we are happy to have this approval in place, current market conditions are challenging and we expect them to remain so in the near term,” he said.

Cameco also owns the Kintyre uranium project, and the exploration project is located approximately 80 kilometres south of Telfer.

Cameco said any decisions to advance its projects in Western Australia will depend upon market conditions.

The Minerals Council of Australia said it welcomed the federal government’s environmental approval for the Yeelirrie Uranium Project, clearing the way for the creation of more highly paid, high skilled jobs in Western Australia.

"Australia has the world's largest endowment of uranium resources and is well placed to continue to supply growing global markets with affordable, near zero emissions energy," it said.