Christmas Island: Closure of phosphate mine could spark economic collapse, council warns
Christmas Island could face a major collapse of its economy and population if extensions to a phosphate mine are not granted in the next six months, the local council says.
Phosphate Resources Limited has mined phosphate deposits on the Indian Ocean territory for more than 100 years, but needs to clear more crown land in order to access new deposits.
Christmas Island Shire president Gordon Thomson said the Federal Government needed to urgently approve the land clearing or risk the mine’s closure and the loss of 250 jobs.
“The whole economy doesn’t exist — except for government services — if the mine closes,” Mr Thomson said.
“The town is a workers’ town. The industry around which our community has been built is the phosphate mining industry.”
The delays to approvals come as the Federal Government prepares to shut down the Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre next year.
Mr Thomson said that move had already cost local jobs on the island, more than 1,500 kilometres off the coast of Western Australia.
“We expect that there will be an effort to depopulate the island and leave it to the birds. That’s what this is all about and the people of Christmas Island aren’t going to go that way,” he said.
Island’s future ‘looks bleak’: miner
Phosphate Resources Limited received Federal Government approvals to begin exploring new phosphate stocks in 2015.
But the company claims that in May 2016, the Commonwealth Department of Environment advised two additional permits would be needed prior to exploration drilling, in addition to the clearing permits already obtained.
Phosphate Resources said the department had advised approval of the additional permits was unlikely, save for a small area that the company deems a “less than prospective economic resource base”.
“Today the economic future of the island looks bleak,” the company said in a statement.
A spokesperson for the Department of Environment confirmed it was currently assessing a proposal from Phosphate Resources for impacts on matters protected under national environmental law.
Economy will survive: environmentalist
Not everybody agrees the Christmas Island economy should continue to rely on phosphate mining for its future.
Ratepayer and small business owner Nick Dunlop said the island could have a future in service industries to the South-East Asian market to its north.
“If wealthy businesspeople from South-East Asia want a heart bypass, why not have a facility on Christmas Island — only 90 minutes away from Singapore?” he asked.
Dr Dunlop — a member of the Conservation Council of WA — said while the town’s economy was currently “reliant” on mining operations, alternative industries would flourish if the mine was wound up.
“The phosphate mine has been the most significant impediment to any economic future for Christmas Island since the late 1980s,” he said.
“Until it stops, there’s little chance of other industries really getting a head start.”