The Gulliver CSR Dossier

179 CSR

While many mining corporations have diversified into other raw materials, CSR is an example of a mining company which has grown the other way round: in this case from sugar. It provides nearly all Australia's refined sugar (1). It also provides building and construction materials, chemicals - and it mines, especially coal (it holds huge steam coal deposits and other deposits in Queensland suited to synfuel conversion).

Through its own exploration group and its subsidiary AAR, CSR has searched for and exploited a wide variety of minerals, including uranium.

According to the Mining Journal, CSR "has long had a policy of, wherever possible, taking overall control of mining projects in which it is involved" (2).

Thus CSR moved into coal by acquiring Thiess Holdings in 1979; it got into copper when it acquired Mount Gunson Mines; and it got into bauxite when it took the 51 % controlling interest in Gove Alumina, which in turn has a 30% right to alumina production at Gove in Australia's Northern Territory (NT) (Alusuisse has the remaining 70%) and, more important, is the sole exporter of Gove bauxite (3).

CSR benefits from the theft and depredation of Aboriginal land both at Gove, NT, and in Pilbara, Western Australia.

At Gove, Nabalco (in which CSR holds 30% of Gove Alumina), the partner with Alusuisse, was granted rights over 20,000ha of the Aboriginal Arnhemland reserve in 1969. The Aboriginal occupants weren't even consulted about the take-over. A nationally publicised court case followed in which - inevitably - Aboriginal land rights, the rights of first occupancy, lost out to commercial interests, the "rights" of first possessiveness.

CSR's Gove Alumina subsidiary was also interested in expanding the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter in New Zealand, though it faced stiff competition from a consortium headed by Comalco (in which CRA holds 67%). The existing Tiwai Point smelter has been the subject of international condemnation for the manner in which its operators have gained cheap electricity at the expense of the New Zealand consumer (see CRA) (4).

Exploitation of the Pilbara has made Australia the world's leading exporter of iron ore. Along with Hamersley Holdings (an RTZ subsidiary), Mt Goldsworthy (which includes Cyprus Mines, Utah International, and Consolidated Goldfields), CSR is in the Pilbara as part of Mt Newman Mining Company, with 30% shares through Pilbara Iron Ltd (Amax have 25%, Broken Hill 30%, Seltrust Holdings Ltd 5%, Mitsui and C. Itoh 10%) (5).

The Pilbara was a major area of Aboriginal culture, including mining (Aborigines set up their own company, the Northern Development and Mining Company), before the corporation moved in. Mt Newman consortium now holds 777 square miles belonging to Aboriginal people at Jigalong which, according to Aboriginal elders met by authoress Jan Roberts, was turned from a hill 270m high into a pit 300m deep; it was "a very sacred site" (5).

There is also evidence that, after an initial policy of employing Aboriginal workers, the Mt Newman Mining Company was "by 1970 ... making quiet efforts to get rid of both Aboriginal employees and the small group of local Aborigines who were living on the edge of the town. Local police were telling Aborigines that they were not welcome in Newman"(6).

CSR holds an interest in the Honeymoon uranium project which, though originally intended to be South Australia's first operating uranium mine, is indefinitely on hold as a result of South Australian (Labor) and Federal government policy. However, in early 1982 the Campaign Against Nuclear Energy (CANE) staged a sit-in at the mine-site which received national coverage. Aborigines also participated in that demonstration since Honeymoon lies on Aboriginal land. Two years earlier Aborigines protested vigorously against the activities of CSR as the drilling company responsible for stepping in at Noonkanbah after Amax had quit (9).

In 1981 CSR acquired virtually all the shares of Delhi International Oil (7), another company exploring for uranium, this time in Western Australia.

It was also - with Broken Hill, Peko-Wallsend, and Western Mining - part of UEGA (Uranium Enrichment Group of Australia) which was set up in January 1980 to study and, "if feasible", develop an enrichment industry in Australia (8).

The Westmoreland uranium prospect in which CSR holds 12.75% (other partners are Queensland Mines, IOL and Urangesellschaft) looks like a bum steer: only 11,400 tons of uranium have been identified and the companies say 15,000 would be required to make the project economically viable (see Queensland Mines) (10).

In early 1983 Whim Creek Consolidated, a 30% subsidiary of Northgate, bought out CSR's minority interest in three gold JVs in Western Australia (11). By the middle of the same year, CSR's chief financial officer Gener Herbert stated in London that the company was "well placed" to make an acquisition of new interests in "industries we already know" (12). At the same time the company was producing gold from its Paringa mine treatment plant near Kalgoorlie on the "golden mile" some two months ahead of schedule (13).

By the end of the year, the company was planning to start gold and silver exploration in the Mangani region of western Sumatra, along with the Indonesian company Pagadis; a year later, however, no firm decision had been taken on opening up the mine (14).

CSR's acquisition of Delhi supposedly entitled it to "be counted among the world's multinationals" (15).

CSR's chequered past includes a period when it ruthlessly exploited slave labour, from Fiji and Polynesia, to build up the sugar industry of Fiji. The aim was to control what - by the 1870s had become a major threat to CSR's own Australian sugar production.

The colonial government of the day prohibited the importation of "kanakas" and the use of indigenous workers - and soon CSR was misusing (East) Indians: up to 63,000 of them, only a third of whom eventually returned to India.

From the '60s onwards, CSR controlled the whole of Fiji's sugar industry by owning all its sugar mills and threatening to withdraw from the country when the workers - under threat of starvation - went on strike.

Lord Denning was commissioned to prepare a report on the industry in 1969, which finally resulted in CSR leaving Fiji - selling up to the government, at a profit to itself, and stili controlling the servicing and export side of Fiji's sugar crop (16).

CSR sold Delhi to Esso Australia in 1987 (17), and most of its coal operations to Royal Dutch/Shell and Allied Industries (18), in a major disposal of its mining operations; at the same time it acquired several manufacturing companies in Australia, the US and Europe (20), including Brickworks (19). Placer Pacific also acquired several Australian properties, while CSR's Indonesian tin mining interests were hived off to Renison Gold Fields Consolidated (49% controlled by CGF) (21). However, the company announced that it still intended to hold on to its bauxite and alumina operations on Aboriginal land at Gove, in the Northern Territory, as well as its aluminium smelter at Tomago, in New South Wales (21). Billiton also (see Royal Dutch/Shell) took over CSR's gold mining and exploration interests in Indonesia.

During the 1980s CSR was pursued by victims of asbestosis caused by the operation of its Midalco subsidiary in Western Australia. By 1988, 258 damage-related suits had been taken against CSR, though only a handful of cases had been heard in the courts. In May that year a Victorian court made an award of A$680,000 against Midalco to a former worker, after he contracted the fatal lung cancer, mesothelioma; and in August, lesser amounts were awarded to other workers, against CSR itself (22). Finally in 1989 and the following year, something approaching a fair settlement was made.

Meanwhile CSR and the State Government Insurance Commission of Western Australia were engaged in a dispute as to which of them was responsible for payment of the damages to the tortured workforce and their dependents, with CSR arguing that it was not responsible for liabilities sustained by its Midalco subsidiary. The two bodies finally reached agreement in early 1989 to share the costs of compensation (23). $A15 million would be paid out by each of them to cover damages for the seven-year period of operation of the Wittenoom mine, with an additional total of $A20 million payable to claimants who worked there before 1959 (23). By the end of that year, researchers at the Queen Elizabeth II Medical centre, and the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, in Perth had estimated that a further 692 workers would fall victim to mesothelioma with another 183 cases of lung cancer to be expected. They predicted another 432 successful claims would be made, in addition to the 356 already accepted (24).

At the beginning of 1990, 322 workers had been compensated (25). A few months later CSR made a partial re-entry into mining, when it bought up 48 quarries from the US ARC subsidiary of the British Hanson corporation. It also pulled out of a plasterboard JV with Redland Plasterboard (established in 1987) while retaining its Australian and New Zealand interests, through Monier PGH - a company with around half of the Australian roofing tile market (26).


CAFCA (Campaign against Foreign Control in Aotearoa), PO Box 2258, Christchurch, New Zealand.
Kimberley Land Council, PO Box 332, Derby, WA G728, Australia.

SOURCE: "The Gulliver File - Mines, people and land: a global battleground" by Roger Moody.

Published in 1992 by Minewatch, 218 Liverpool Road, London Nl ILE, UK, and WISE-Glen Aplin, Po Box 87, Glen Aplin Q 4381, Australia.

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