Olympic Dam Expansion

14 Sep 2011 archivespeech

This speech is in relation to the Olympic Dam Expansion, which has as its intention that the processing of uranium concentrate is done domestically rather than exported.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (19:53): I rise to make some remarks on this particular motion, which has as its intention that the processing of uranium concentrate is done domestically rather than exported. It is critical of the lack of detail contained within the EIS and also calls the bluff of the state government in its express comments in 2007 that it would 'strongly oppose any moves by the company to do most of the processing of minerals from the expanded Olympic Dam mine overseas.'

I note, from his supporting speech, that the Hon. Mr Parnell states that BHP Billiton needs to provide its costs so that an assessment of its claim can be validated. He also outlines in some detail Premier Rann's hypocrisy in demanding in 2007 that processing take place locally, which he has, strangely, gone very quiet on.

I think disclosure is a very important part of this process. For that reason, I sought from one of our ministers in this chamber today information about the assessment report which will contain all of the agency reports responding to the EIS and the supplementary EIS, which I think needs to be released publicly posthaste because that is really going to inform us of the main game, which is the indenture proposal.

I can understand that the honourable member will continue to put these sorts of motions up, seeking information and for this chamber to endorse a certain action, but I think that what we really need with the timing is to get more details about the indenture and to get all the details that are contained within the assessment report which is being put together by the Department of Planning and Local Government posthaste. I understand that that was provided to cabinet two weeks ago. Clearly, it is absolutely critical that members of this chamber are made informed of that so that we can make an informed decision.

The major problem that I have is in part two of the member's motion which is where he calls on BHP Billiton to publicly release those details because I think there may be issues of commercial in confidence. So, while I think we need disclosure on a great number of details, I do appreciate that there may be some aspects of it that may not be in the best interests of the project to be made public, not because the company has anything to hide from us or from the people of South Australia but from its competitors. I have sought some details from BHP Billiton as to what their response would be and they have made the following comments which I will read into the record:

The Draft EIS and Supplementary EIS provided detailed explanations of the preferred option for the processing [of] ore and the reasons why other options were rejected. By providing the company with permission to publish the Supplementary EIS at the conclusion of the adequacy test process in early 2011, the State and Federal Governments declared this assessment was adequate for assessment.

I guess in that sense they are making the point that they have done everything they have been asked to do, so I think they would probably make the point that, if there is any fault in that process, then the government should have asked for other details. It continues:

As outlined in the Draft EIS, very few mining projects extract and process ore to final product at the same site. This is because it is difficult to match the operating parameters of an on-site smelter with the changing mineralogy, grade and volumes of ore being extracted from the mine. The result often requires ore to be stockpiled and blended in an attempt to produce a more consistent feed to the smelter, or to have the smelter operating below capacity and therefore inefficiently. Creating the ability to choose the volume and grade of ore sent to the on-site smelter and exporting the excess as copper concentrate would provide Olympic Dam with greater operating efficiency.

The option to construct a new plant at Olympic Dam to process all recovered ore was not the preferred option because: this would require an additional smelter to be constructed at Olympic Dam and the additional cost for the additional smelter would not provide the optimal return on investment the lower copper grade and lower copper to sulphur ratio of the ore body to be mined for the proposed expansion would necessitate different smelting technology from that currently used at Olympic Dam (ie two-staged smelting instead of single-staged smelting), thus increasing the complexity of on-site metallurgical processing by running two smelters with different technologies.

I must admit that in reading that there are clearly a lot of issues that are to do with chemistry which are probably beyond the expertise at least of this parliament and, therefore, goes to the point that I have made earlier which is that the assessment report is absolutely critical and we would like to have it as soon as possible please, Mr Government.

The final point that I would like to make is that there are some who would probably say that, knowing the Greens' staunch policy of not wanting to mine uranium—and this is perhaps a fairly cynical suggestion—that they will seek to put up barriers to this project until (if all of those barriers were accepted) the project would basically fall over and be financially unviable. I am not necessarily wedded to that point of view but it is certainly a view that people in our community hold.

With those comments, I do endorse the desire of the mover of the motion for greater transparency but, due to the fact that there may be issues with commercial-in-confidence matters, we will not be able to support the motion.