Labor pushes for more mining in South Australian nuclear weapons test range

Labor has renewed calls to allow more in the Woomera Prohibited Area (WPA), urging the Coalition to pass a bill that will facilitate easier access.

Earlier this month a bipartisan committee recommended that the Senate should not support Labor’s WPA amendment bill, raising doubts about access arrangements.

Labor senator Don Farrell introduced a private member’s bill last November, and said the new laws would encourage mining activity in South Australia, creating industry growth that would fill the void left by the closure of the Holden manufacturing plant scheduled for 2017.

“We have to replace the jobs that we have lost with Holden, and mining is one way we can do it,” Farrell said.

“The Labor Party will support it and it should be a matter of urgency; we don’t have a moment to waste to replace those jobs.”

Defence Minister David Johnston has introduced an amended bill, but the opposition fears the Coalition will delay its passage by not listing it for debate.

South Australian treasurer Tom Koutsantonis suggested that Defence and federal government were holding back investment in the state

“There are billions and billions of dollars of potential projects in that area… we need them to get up and running,” he said.

“It has been a very slow process since the election and I am very, very concerned that Defence is fighting some sort of rearguard action about it.”

Mining is currently allowed in the Woomera Protected Area, however the applications process is difficult, and mining companies have been easily rejected on grounds of national security, as was the case in 2009 when a Chinese investor was rejected on those grounds.

This resulted in the commissioning of the Hawke Review in 2010, which addressed conflict between mineral explorers and Defence in the WPA.

In 2011 the Labor government released a report, following the review, which recommended a new management framework for the WPA, but that legislation is yet to pass.

The WPA is a military testing range used by Australia and its allies for long range and experimental weapons, and is notorious as the site of nuclear weapons testing during the Cold War.

The site is 450 kilometres from Adelaide with an area of 124,000 square kilometres.

The WPA is estimated to contain $35 billion worth of resources, including 70 per cent of the nation’s copper reserves.

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