Rio Tinto closer to expansion of Weipa bauxite operations

Mining giant Rio Tinto has moved a step closer to the expansion of its bauxite operations in far north Queensland, Australia, after the Queensland government approved a controversial $1.45 billion project.

The development is being seen as setting the stage for another standoff between Rio and the federal government, with consent from environment minister Tony Burke now the last barrier to pushing ahead with the ''South of Embley'' project. The company has long wished to expand its bauxite operations near Weipa, with the South of Embley project, which includes a new open-cut mine, a power station, ship loaders and other infrastructure.

According to Rio, the project would create 1,200 jobs and extend the life of the Weipa operations by decades, but development was halted in March when Burke intervened on concerns that the project would add to difficulties to shipping movements through the Great Barrier Reef. The move had recently been cited by Rio boss Tom Albanese as an example of red tape that was adding to the difficulty of doing business in Australia.

The pro-mining state government in Queensland used yesterday's approval to put pressure on Burke over his continuing involvement in the process, which, according to the state, is an unnecessary duplication of approval processes.
However, according to Burke, he would not be rushed, saying he made no apology for approaching the issue with caution when it came to shipping movements through the Great Barrier Reef.

The $1.45 billion South of Embley project is envisage to produce between 22 and 50 million dry product tonnes of bauxite annually, and would extend the life of the mine by 40 years.

The project received deputy premier Jeff Seeney's approval to go ahead today.