The Northern Territory Government’s new mining laws have helped to destroy the Borroloola community’s legal bid for environmental justice.

Gudanji Traditional Owner Josephine Davey and senior Garrawa elderJack Green and the Environment Centre NT (ECNT) have withdrawn their appeal of a NT Supreme Court decision in relation to the McArthur River Mine (MRM), the Territory’s most toxic mine site. 

In 2021, Ms Davey, Mr Green and ECNT had, through their lawyers at the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO), challenged a decision of the NT Mining and Industry Minister to reduce the security bond for MRM and approve its expansion without a planned, life-of-mine closure plan. 

Supreme Court Justice Judith Kelly in April 2023 dismissed the application. In May, EDO asked the NT Court of Appeal on behalf of its clients to set aside Justice Kelly’s ruling and declare the Minister’s original decisions unlawful.

EDO’s clients decided to withdraw their appeal after receiving legal advice that recent changes to the NT’s mining laws had significantly reduced their prospects of success.

ECNT Director Dr Kirsty Howey said: “This is another kick in the guts for a community that has been used and abused by Glencore for decades and forgotten by successive NT Governments who have put corporate profits ahead of community interests time and again. The community of Borroloola has become the first casualty of the NT Government’s new mining laws.”

Jack Green, a Garawa man and one of the senior Elders in Borroloola, said:  “What I’m worried about is how the government made this decision on the new mining laws. The government went ahead and made a decision about these laws, without talking to us. We have been fighting for so long about this mine and the laws have been changed almost overnight. The government should have talked to us face to face. These laws will impact Aboriginal people the most because these mines are on our Country. The government has a responsibility to listen to us.” 

Josephine Davey, a Gudanji woman and Traditional Owner said:  “I’ve been fighting for my Country for so long, and for things to change. My children are 16 and 15 now and I’ve been fighting since before they were born. The government should come and sit down and speak with us before they make any decisions that impact our Country.” 

EDO NT Managing Lawyer Elanor Fenge said: “We are deeply disappointed to be withdrawing this landmark legal action today. The NT Government committed to once-in-a-generation reform to fix our broken mining laws. Instead, the new laws will enable Glencore to continue operating without a life-of-mine closure plan, and with a security bond that is wholly inadequate to deal with the catastrophic, multi-generational environmental impacts of this mine. We know that the McArthur River Mine will continue to cause damage for hundreds, if not thousands of years, and the community will be left to foot the bill.”

The Grata Fund provided financial backing to remove the barriers of adverse costs against Jack and Josie and ECNT so they could have their case heard. The Grata Fund supports people and communities to hold powerful government and corporate leaders to account and achieve systemic change through the courts.