Federal Environment Minister Melissa Price gave the all-clear for a controversial uranium mine in WA’s Mid West just a day before Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the election, it has been revealed.

The conditional environmental approval for the Yeelirrie mine on April 10 comes before the Court of Appeal has ruled on a challenge by conservationists and indigenous groups to the former State government’s approval of the project.

Ms Price comfortably holds the massive electorate of Durack, in which Yeelirrie sits.

The Cameco-owned Yeelirrie near Wiluna is one of the biggest uranium deposits in Australia, but the company will not go ahead with developing the project until the price of uranium improves significantly and in a sustainable way.

The price has been in the doldrums since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

Ms Price’s office said the approval was made in the normal course of business and was subject to 32 strict conditions to avoid and mitigate potential environmental impacts.

Federal Labor is calling on Ms Price to explain why she approved the mine.

“I want to find out what on earth has happened,” Labor’s Environment Spokesman Tony Burke told ABC radio.

Mr Burke said no details were 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 was not finalised until this month.

“This is business as usual,” he told Sky News.

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.

The Conservation Council of WA is outraged by the approval before the government entered caretaker mode and as they continue a legal fight against the State government’s approval of the project.

Former Barnett Government Environment Minister Albert Jacob gave the green light to Yeelirrie in similar circumstances in January 2017, just 16 days before the pre-election caretaker mode began.

CCWA fears unique subterranean fauna in the area will become extinct if Yeelirrie proceeds.

Together with members of the Tjiwarl native title group, the CCWA challenged the approval in the Supreme Court but lost, and have now taken their battle to the Court of Appeal.

Earlier this year, CCWA Director Piers Verstegen said the previous government was desperate to lock in a uranium project before it lost power, going against the advice of the Environmental Protection Authority which was concerned about the impact of mining on subterranean fauna.

“Stygofauna might be a relatively obscure species. In fact, these particular species of stygofauna were not known to science until the proponent started exploring for uranium in that area,” Mr Verstegen said.

“But the legal precedent here has much broader implications.

“We’re certainly very keen to be upholding environmental laws ... which were never intended to be used by a minister or a government to approve the extinction of species.”

The McGowan Government has said it would not approve new uranium mines in its term but will not try to reverse approvals already in place.

 

 

Image: Anti-nuclear protesters at Yeelirrie in 2012, Kalgoorlie Miner.