SYDNEY — IN a controversial decision, the Australian government decided to respect the religious beliefs of a local Aboriginal tribe and to deny permission to a mining group to dig for gold at Coronation Hill in the Northern Territory. The decision was immediately attacked by the mining industry, which said mining companies would shift their investments out of Australia. "It is a demonstration of inconsistency and uncertainty, adding great risk to an already high risk investment," says Murray McMillan, assistant director of the Australian Mining Industry Council in Canberra.
Prime Minister Bob Hawke defended the decision. "Mining at Coronation Hill represents a special set of circumstances not existing elsewhere in Australia," said Mr. Hawke. He said the site would become part of Kakadu National Park.
The government had earlier said it would give permission for the mine if it met environmental standards and if the local Jawoyn aboriginal tribe gave permission. Tribal elders, however, said the mining would disturb a religious being, Bula. Some Jawoyn who work for the joint venture, led by Newcrest Mining, disagree, saying the mining should be allowed. And Newcrest pointed out that uranium mining had taken place on Coronation Hill 30 years ago without dissent from the aborigines. The company may seek c o
mpensation from the government for its A$13 million (US$9.9 million) investment.