Politics of mining

The decision to stop sandmining on North Stradbroke Island is one which must be made by the State Government.  Premier Anna Bligh has talked up the need to protect Straddie but her actions show she is not committed to this. This is not new unfortunately, successive governments have put the profits of Straddie’s sandmining companies ahead of the island’s future.

An analysis of the words and actions of successive Governments over the past 20 years unfortunately reveals hypocrisy, political spin and deception. Instead of ‘protecting and preserving the Island for future generations’, there has been an expansion of mining and the destruction which it causes.

Words

Actions

In 1990, the then Labor Government led parliament and the public to believe that half of North Stradbroke Island was to become National Park. See page1151 Hansard 5 May 1990. None. Had it happened then, it is likely that mining would have ended years ago. No National Park has been declared since the 1960’s declaration of a small area around Blue Lake. For the past two decades the Government has bent over backwards for the mining companies. It has extended expired leases and permitted the expansion of the destruction.Proof that the mines have become larger and more destructive can be seen by exploring the island on google earth and nearmap.com.
The Premier said in a pre-election letter in March, 2009 sent to voters that NSI needs to be “protected and preserved for future generations”.In an article in the Brisbane Times she said….

“The truth is that sand mining should never have been allowed to begin on North Stradbroke Island. It was a mistake. The leases were issued during an era when it was easier to get a mining lease than it was to get a driving licence. It was the “rip it up and ship it out” era that saw the diggers begin to dig at our island’s heart”..

Anna Bligh’s rhetoric that sandmining on Stradbroke Island should never have started does not match her plan to continue mineral sand mining on Straddie until the mineral sands are all mined out in 2027.You would be forgiven for thinking that, in the light of these words, there would be no way expired leases would be extended. Yet they were extended by the Beattie cabinet, when Anna Bligh and most of her current colleagues were members and she was the Deputy Premier. At least seven leases have been extended (or newly granted) since 2000.

Note: While it is the Minister who has to be satisfied of various factors before there is any power to renew, it is the cabinet which makes the final decision. Cabinet has a discretion to refuse to renew even if the Minister recommends renewal.

Electors were taken for fools in June 2010 when the Premier announced that her Government was ending mining . As is now becoming widely known, the miner told the Australian Securities Exchange in May, 2009 that the Island would run out of mineral sands by 2027 – the year the Bligh Government says it will end mining !To reinforce the spin, the Bligh Government spent $240,000 distributing a propaganda letter containing the Government’s smoke and mirrors ‘vision’ for Stradbroke to more than one million households in South-east Queensland. See article. There are several key expired leases which are essential to mining continuing. Instead of applying the Mineral Resources Act to end mining by 2013, the intended action announced by Premier Bligh on 20 June 2010 is to legislate to end mining by 2027 ! Its hardly surprising that the miner’s multi-million dollar advertising campaign is supporting this plan.Note: Section 286A MRA sets out the law on applications for expired leases. However, former Mines Minister Robertson refused to apply it even to the most significant expired lease ML 1117 – which expired more than 3 years ago. In our view he now knows that renewal of this lease cannot be justified, so the Government just allows Unimin to continue to mine on expired leases. It has said it intends to legislate in 2011 – to extend mining.
In an October 2010 Courier Mail article following Gordon Nuttall’s recent convictions for corruption (again) and perjury, Anna Bligh stated that Nuttall’s convictions demonstrated that “business must be done by the strict letter of the law” and “that no one is above the law”.  See article. Instead of prosecuting Unimin for the unlawful removal and sale of substantial quantities of non-mineral sand over a decade, the Government concealed and ignored a report given to it in February, 2009 containing evidence from EPA
officers that Unimin knew it was not entitled to take the sand, falsely denied it when challenged and continued to sell it after it was told by the EPA to stop – that is, acted dishonestly. Before charging Unimin with the simple offences now before the Magistrates Court, the Government allowed Unimin to make an (unsuccessful) civil application to the Supreme Court intended to avoid any prosecution and acquiesced in the misleading of the Court by Unimin. The miner claimed to be innocent of any intentional wrongdoing, contrary to the Government’s, then concealed, independent investigation report.When the report was leaked (late 2010), our lawyers obtained an opinion from two eminent criminal barristers, one a senior counsel and former prosecutor. In their view, there is a prima facie case of stealing and misappropriation/fraud against Unimin. The joint opinion was immediately sent to the Premier and the Attorney-General. Still there is no action to prosecute these offences – offences which properly reflect the serious nature of the allegations. Currently, Unimin stands charged only with simple offences alleging lack of correct permits, but no allegation of dishonesty.
In the pre-election letter to voters from the Premier dated 16 March 2009, it was said :-

“The Bligh Government supports Redland Shire Council’s decision to refuse Development Approval to remove and sell sand from Stradbroke Island.”

This was a reference to the August 2008 unanimous decision of the Council rejecting an application by a CRL subsidiary ( before Unimin bought them out) to remove large quantities of sand from the Enterprise mine and sell it to the construction industry.

The Bligh Government granted the miner a permit under the Forestry Act in 2007.The Council application could not have been made without the permit. Since the Premier’s letter, numerous requests to the Premier asking for the permit to be withdrawn have fallen on deaf ears. Instead environment and community groups and individuals have had to fight the miners in Court. The Court of Appeal dismissed the miner’s appeal against the Council decision in July, 2010 but the miner has applied for special leave to appeal to the High Court. The Bligh Government could have ended all of this at any time by simply withdrawing the Forestry Act permit.

Conclusion

If the Government wanted to back the miners why didn’t it just come out and say so? Why cloak its support for continued destruction of the Island with promises about ‘protecting and preserving the Island’? Why pretend to be saving the Island but then announce that it is likely that the expired leases on Enterprise, the most destructive mine, will be extended, meaning that large tracts of bushland and ancient dunes could be destroyed, before being declared National Park ?

You might think that this is the sort of behaviour engaged in by most Governments, but the behaviour towards Stradbroke Island has been particularly hypocritical. Its attempts to look ‘environmental’ and facilitate further destruction at the same time make it look pathetic. Opposition to mining is growing. Let’s hope it results in the Government deciding to back its own words with appropriate action. If so, it is sure to receive all round praise by most South-East Queenslanders.

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