Queensland’s Court of Appeal has found that the mining company was illegally taking sand off the island and selling it for construction purposes. The sand illegally taken has a retail value of about $80 million.
On 4 December, 2009 Unimin (as mining company Sibelco was formerly known) was charged with criminal offences relating to its conducting an illegal sand mining business on the Island. It admitted in the Supreme Court recently that it did remove the sand and sell sand to the landscape and construction industries but it argued that mining law excused its actions. The Judge rejected Unimin’s legal argument. Four days later Unimin was charged with two criminal offences. Unimin appealed the Supreme Court Judge’s decision. The charges were adjourned pending the appeal outcome. On 2 July, 2010 the Court of Appeal dismissed Unimin’s appeal three to nil. The Court found that the sale of the sand was unlawful. It did not matter that Unimin paid some royalties. The Court also found that the opinion of a public servant that the non-mineral sand was a mineral was both wrong and irrelevant to the Court’s findings. The criminal charges against Unimin are now proceeding.
In the course of its application to the Court, Unimin misled the Supreme Court Judge. It filed an affidavit clearly implying that the Redland City Council knowingly approved of its actions in selling the sand for landscaping and building purposes. That was untrue and Unimin knew it. It had been told by the Council that its ‘proposal’ to sell sand for these purposes would be in conflict with the local Planning Scheme as it was inconsistent in a ‘conservation’ zone and that any application for development approval needed to address a number of important issues in order to be considered by Council. Unimin also concealed from the Court that the Council, in August 2008, had in fact unanimously rejected an application containing a similar proposal from a Unimin subsidiary company on the Island and that there was a current appeal against the Council’s decision before the Planning and Environment Court.
Unimin also ignored what the Council had told it directly – it was told by Council that its ‘proposal’ was an inconsistent use in the ‘conservation’ zone. It thumbed its corporate nose at the Council and our State’s legal system and continued to sell the sand illegally without bothering to even apply to the Council for development approval under the Integrated Planning Act or obtaining a permit, in the first instance, to remove and sell the sand under the Forestry Act. The Supreme Court evidence revealed that it had been selling substantial quantities of non-mineral sand for the past decade, instead of using it to rebuild sand dunes it had destroyed in the mining process, filling voids left after lawfully removing minerals and otherwise using its best endeavours to rehabiliate the landscape in accordance with its obligations under its mining leases and the Environmental Authorities to mine on the Island.
Unimin clearly cannot be trusted to mine in such a sensitive coastal environment. All of the mining leases it owns and controls are in areas zoned ‘conservation’ under the Redlands Planning Scheme, a scheme approved by the State Government in 2006.
By its actions Unimin has shown that it is not a fit and proper company to conduct mining operations on the Island. The time is right for the Bligh Government to refuse to renew all expired mining leases, to cancel the leases where Unimin unlawfully removed large quantities of sand and to end sand mining on Stradbroke.