Bligh’s government extended, not ended, open cut sand-mining on North Stradbroke Island

Bligh’s government extended, not ended, open cut sand-mining on North Stradbroke Island

The Bligh government has gone to extraordinary lengths to allow sand mining to continue on North Stradbroke Island.

Bligh government allowed mining company to sandmine on expired leases for four years

The Bligh Government allowed mining company Sibelco to mine on expired leases for more than three years at the Enterprise mine  (the very large mine near the middle of the island).  .

‘the company, which is largely carrying out its operation now at Enterprise Mine—one of its largest operations—on expired leases’
Premier Anna Bligh
Queensland Hansard, 7 April 2011, page 1153.

The majority of the mine path for this mine is on a lease adjacent to ML1105 (ML1117) which expired in 2007 and which is proposed to be renewed until December 2019 as part of the balanced resolution of the competing interests on NSI.
North Stradbroke Island Protection and Sustainability Bill 2011,  Explanatory Notes.

‘In fact, the bill renews or extends certain already expired mining leases on North Stradbroke Island … There was no guarantee that those leases would have otherwise been renewed’
Mark RYAN, ALP Member of Parliament for the electorate of Morayfield.
Queensland Hansard, 7 April 2011, page 1125.

Mining leases could not be extended under existing mining laws

The Bligh government realised that legislated safeguards meant that the mining leases could not be renewed.  This is because the legislation does not allow renewal of mining leases if mining is incompatible with a future use of the land.  It was clear that the future use of the land was National Park and destroying an area with mining is inconsistent with National Park!

Under the expired lease provision of the Mineral Resources Act (s.286A), an expired lease can’t be renewed unless the Minister for Mines is satisfied of each of a number of factors set out. The section is quite clear in its terms. A 2009 Supreme Court decision confirmed the need for the minister to be satisfied of each and every factor before there is a legal power to renew.

In the special circumstances of North Stradbroke Island, the second largest sand island in the world, there were obvious risks that were known to all concerned.

There were several factors which the minister is likely to have had difficulty in being satisfied of but one particular factor stood out. The minister had to be satisfied that: “having regard to the current and prospective uses of the land comprised in the lease, the operations to be carried on during the renewed term of the lease – (i) are an appropriate land use;”

This is clearly a sensible provision, which still applies everywhere else in Queensland. National Parks covering Stradbroke Island have been under consideration for at least two decades. Parliament was informed in 1990 that the then state government was considering declaring 50 per cent of the island a national park. Since then, the population of the adjacent Greater Brisbane area has more than doubled. In June 2010, the Premier identified areas of proposed national park which encompass 80 per cent of the island, including all areas under mining leases.

It is difficult to conceive that the minister could have been genuinely satisfied that continuation of mining on land earmarked for National Park would be “an appropriate land use”.  The sand mining operation is quite obviously extremely intensive and destructive. Judicial review was also available. That option doesn’t exist under the special legislation.

Government created new laws to bypass the safeguards in the existing legislation

In April 2011 the Bligh government created and passed special legislation which bypassed these safeguards so the mining leases could be renewed. Under the Bligh government plan, sand mining on these previously expired leases would continue until the very end of 2019, many more years of destruction, pollution and threats to wetlands and endangered species.  The government also extended other expired leases to allow sand mining to continue at the Vance silica mine until 2025.