Sunday, 10 August 2014

Campbell Newman is in quicksand over mining on Stradbroke

North Stradbroke, affectionately known as “Straddie” by most South-east Queenslanders, is the world’s second largest sand island. It’s a popular holiday destination on Brisbane’s doorstep, with beautiful surfing beaches and a laid-back feel.

Amendments to the 2011 North Stradbroke Island Protection and Sustainability Act, were passed by the Queensland parliament last November. They are intended to allow mineral sand mining by the Belgian owned concern Sibelco to be extended at the main Enterprise mine in 2019 (the current limit) to 2035. Sibelco stands to benefit by $1.5 billion, according to its own figures.

Last year, it closed a small silica sand mine on the island which had employed 13 people. It had not been scheduled to close until 2025. Sibelco’s future operations depend upon the Enterprise mine.

In a scathing assessment of Queensland Premier Campbell Newman’s government late last month, Tony Fitzgerald QC wrote that “it has lost much of its support in little more than two years, which isn’t surprising.”

One overreach Fitzgerald mentioned was the “reduced protection of the environment and support for commercial activities posing a risk of major damage to natural assets, including the Great Barrier Reef and Stradbroke Island”.

Fitzgerald’s comments should place a sharper focus on Campbell Newman’s relationship with Sibelco and what Queensland Labor MP Jackie Trad has called the “cash for legislation deal”.
In 2011 the former Labor government passed special legislation extending key expired mining leases at the Enterprise mine to 2019, extinguishing the legal rights of objectors under existing legislation.

But Sibelco wasn’t satisfied. It had wanted an extension to 2027. It then campaigned against Labor in the lead up to the 2012 state election. It claimed that it had a legal right to have the expired mining leases extended to 2027 – a claim which did not stand up to scrutiny, as renewal of the leases was by no means certain.

The miners launched a professional campaign, including full page newspaper ads and 108 prime time television spots. The campaign also involved a $91,840 letter drop campaign for Campbell Newman in his Ashgrove electorate. This issue has been referred by Trad to Queensland’s recently renamed (but less independent) Crime and Corruption Commission.

The Newman government’s legislative favour also occurred even though Sibelco is in the middle of a criminal trial. It is being tried on charges relating to the unlawful removal and sale, over many years, of large quantities of non-mineral sand.

The trial, one of the longest-running in Queensland’s history, resumes on 22 August despite Sibelco’s unsuccessful applications to have the charges dismissed. Last year, it was ordered to pay$255,000 in costs for failed applications.

Since last November, the Newman government has mischaracterisedits amendments to the Stradbroke legislation, claiming sand mining had already been extended to 2035. The truth is that no extension of sand mining to 2035 (or 2027, the date sought by Sibelco in 2012) is scheduled to occur until 2019 – the current expiry date of the relevant mining leases.

If a future parliament repeals the Newman amendments, mining will end at the main mine in 2019. Even the Newman government may be forced to repeal its amendments. The island’s native title owners, the Quandamooka people, in June launched a High Court challengeagainst the Queensland Government. They are seeking a declaration that the Newman amendments in favour of Sibelco are invalid under the Australian constitution due to a conflict with a 2011 federal court native title determination and an associated Indigenous land use agreement with the State government.

If the Newman amendments are repealed, no compensation is payable to Sibelco because Section 6 of the North Stradbroke Island Protection and Sustainability Act specifically rules it out. This would not be an unreasonable result in the circumstances. When Sibelco purchased the Enterprise mine in 2009 it was aware that an application to renew the key mining lease, which expired in 2007, had not been decided. It also knew that there was significant opposition to renewal from environment groups and indigenous owners who had already made their intentions to challenge future mining plans clear to the former mine owner.

It is well known that sand mining causes “major, permanent and irreversible environmental harm.” This was the conclusion of the the Fraser Island inquiry in 1976. Campbell Newman’s father Kevin was the Federal Environment Minister at the time, and he accepted the findings and ended mining on Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island, within weeks of receiving the inquiry’s report. The Federal government rejected the the Bjelkie-Petersen government’s request for a two year transition.

North Stradbroke’s future depends upon its natural environment being protected as far as possible. Enough damage has been caused by sand mining. The recent Stafford by-election swing of over 18% against the Queensland Liberal National Party government sent a clear message that the public has had enough of the Newman government’s extreme decisions. His amendments should be repealed and there needs to be a truly independent public inquiry into the “cash for legislation” deal.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Corruption Fighter Tony Fitzgerald takes on Newman Government over Stradbroke

Reported in the weekend's Brisbane Times and Courier Mail (front page), Corruption Fighter Tony Fitzgerald QC has made a scathing assessment of the Newman government, in which he made mention of Stradbroke Island.

This is an extract:-

"Dishonest members of parliament, nepotism, preferential treatment of supporters, removal of limits on political donations, large-scale public service sackings, a major down-grade of hospital staff conditions, shutting down health and juvenile rehabilitation programs, reduced protection of the environment and support for commercial activities posing a risk of major damage to natural assets including the Great Barrier Reef and Stradbroke Islandtermination of the office of Climate Change and approval of activities involving large-scale emissions, limiting union rights, ill-informed and sometimes invalid criminal laws, changes to electoral laws - an unfortunate reminder of the gerrymanders which gave the National and Liberal Parties an unfair advantage in pre-reform Queensland - and proposed public asset sales provide the background to the government's blitzkrieg on the institutions which protect citizens and inhibit government excess." 

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Sand mining on North Stradbroke Island - The Sibelco favours

This article published on the Independent Australia news website exposes the misreporting of the North Stradbroke legislation. Sand mining has not been extended to 2035. The Newman government amendments to the 2011 legislation passed in November last year, removed the restricted mine path at the Enterprise mine and allow Sibelco to apply, but not until 2019, to extend mining leases to 2035. 

Stradbroke Island is special. Enough damage has been done. We need to save straddie now, for the sake of our children and future generations. The Newman amendments must be repealed !

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Letter of Support to QYAC

View PDF of letter here

Mr Cameron Costello 8 June, 2014
Chair Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation
Dear Cameron
I write to you and the board of QYAC on behalf of the FOSI committee and all our members to support the commencement, last Friday, of QYAC’s High Court challenge to the Newman government’s amendments to the 2011 North Stradbroke legislation.
FOSI confirms its strong opposition to the November 2013 amendments because they permit the further expansion of sand mining at the Enterprise mine by abolishing the 2011 restricted mine path and also allowing mining to extend into ML 1120.In addition, FOSI strongly opposes the Newman amendments because they are designed to permit, in 2019, sand mining leases at Enterprise mine to be extended again – until 2035.
As an environment group committed to the protection of the island’s landscape and its diverse flora and fauna, we applaud QYAC for its High Court challenge. We appreciate that, in addition to environmental concerns, QYAC is motivated by the need to protect the cultural heritage of all native title owners and their rights and interests over the land currently under mining lease.
We also are aware that, consistent with the Federal court orders of 4 July, 2011, the native title rights and interests are exercisable on the expiry of the mining leases. Any expansion or extension of sand mining beyond the restricted area or time limits legislated in April 2011 obviously substantially interferes with these rights and interests by degrading the land and/or postponing, for years, the rights and interests.
We realise that standing up to a State government is not an easy task. No doubt there will be critics. However, the 2011 extension was the result of special, legislated renewal of expired leases which bypassed usual processes and extinguished the pre-existing legal rights of organisations and individuals opposed to any renewal. Legal advice indicated that there were good prospects of overturning expired lease renewals under existing legislation. Rest assured that FOSI fully supports QYAC in its endeavor to have the High Court declare the Newman government amendments to be invalid. FOSI agrees that there should be no further extension of the Enterprise mine beyond 31 December, 2019.
Yours sincerely,
Sue Ellen Carew
Friends of Stradbroke Island Association Inc.
PO Box 167
ABN: 37 521 315 877

Monday, 21 April 2014

Scuba Video of Manta Rays off Point Lookout

This video taken while scuba diving at Manta Bommie, just off Point Lookout was submitted by a recent visitor to North Stradbroke Island.

Manta Bommie is a good site to see the mantas up close, as they come in from the deeper water to this well known cleaning station, and the little cleaner wrasse get to work removing parasites and dead skin from the mantas. You can see a couple of the cleaners going into the mouth of the larger manta from about 1:00 into the video.

This was a very surreal experience, the mantas are a bit spooky and it took some time before they would approach us, while we waited on the bottom. After a few minutes it seemed like their curiosity took over, and they came much closer to check us out. At one point, the larger manta got so close that I had to pull the camera out of its way.

The larger one was about 3.5 metres wide, the smaller one about 2 metres.

This species (manta alfredi, or reef manta) can grow as large as 5.5 metres wide!

Sibelco breaches bushfire prevention undertakings

The serious risks to human life, property and to flora and fauna associated with out of control bushfires on North Stradbroke are obvious.

The miners’ Environmental Studies Report (2003), required before mining could commence under Queensland law at the Enterprise mine acknowledges the risks:-

“Bushfires frequently occur on North Stradbroke Island as a result of both natural (eg lightning strikes) and human induced events (eg arson). Periodic low intensity fires are essential for the reproduction processes of many native vegetation communities on the island. However high intensity or unnaturally frequent fires can result in loss of property, human life and significant harm to native flora and fauna communities” (ESR section 3.2.6)
Considering its enormous profits are derived from mining and permanently damaging an internationally recognised, sensitive sand island, most people are likely to consider that Sibelco should strictly comply with its bushfire obligations. Its mining leases still cover around 50% of the island.

Front page article continued…Incredibly, an examination of Plans of Operations and other official documents submitted by the mining companies to the Queensland government over the past decade expose Sibelco and its (now) subsidiary CRL as thumbing their noses at Queenslanders, yet again.

The formal, written undertakings to the Queensland Government are contained initially in the Environmental Management Overview Strategy (EMOS 2003). These are repeated in the Plans of Operations submitted each year by the miner to government for approval to continue mining operations. Two of the undertakings are relevant:-

UndertakIng No.2 – "Sibelco Australia Limited will mine in accordance with its non-standard EA and the undertakings made in this Environmental Management Overview Strategy.”

Undertaking no. 21 – “Sibelco Australia Limited will operate in accordance with, and regularly review, a Bushfire Management Plan specific to its operations on North Stradbroke Island”.

Astonishingly, year after year, since at least 2003, the Plans of Operations have claimed that the mining company is “currently developing” a Bushfire Management Plan (BMP).

This is an extract from the 2012 Plans of Operations for example:-
4.2.11 Land Resources – Bushfire Management
Undertaking no. 21 - Sibelco Australia Limited will operate in accordance with, and regularly review, a Bushfire Management Plan specific to its operations on North Stradbroke Island”
Control Strategy
Sibelco is currently developing a Bushfire Management Plan (BMP)”.

Curiously, as if conscious of the non-compliances, in the 2013 Plans of Operations, for the first time, Sibelco did not set out its undertakings or control strategies. Instead, under the heading “EMOS undertakings and control strategies”, it simply stated in section 4.2.1 :- “No changes to control strategies have occurred since the 2012 plan of operations report”. 

Year after year, the company’s Plans of Operations have acknowledged that a BMP should include:-
  • Identification of fire risks areas;
  • Dedicated 4WD ‘slip-on’ fire response appliance;
  • The use of controlled burns to reduce fuel loads;
  • Fire break management; 
  • Bushfire response procedures. 
But despite all the known facts, by their own admissions, neither CRL (before the takeover in 2009) nor Sibelco, concluded developing a BMP. Why weren’t these breaches of undertakings challenged by government before approving, annually, the following year’s mining plans and before renewing expired mining leases?

Many other questions arise, such as:-
  1. How much did the recent fires cost the taxpayer?
  2. Did the Newman government carry out ‘due diligence’ before deciding its sand mining policy?
  3. If so, did it discover that Sibelco did not have a concluded bushfire management plan in place, or that it has also breached its undertakings to eradicate pests (such as foxes) and weeds on its leases? If not, why not?
  4. If Sibelco had operated in accordance with undertaking no. 21 what was the likely impact of compliance on the extent and intensity of the recent bushfire? 
  5. Will the government require Sibelco to re-vegetate the burnt, previously mined areas to assist post-fire recovery in these biodiversity poor areas?
  6. Should there be an independent investigation into the fire, the impact/s of Sibelco’s non-compliance with EMOS undertakings no. 21 and no.2 and the re-planting of the mined areas?

Bushfire – The Aftermath & Photos of Recovery

A photograph of the recent bushfire on Stradbroke Island by Soren Martensen
Stradbroke is no stranger to bushfire. We all have our recollections of fires of past years, power cuts and close shaves. Many an interesting conversation on the island gets on to how different areas are recovering: Blue Lake regenerated quickly after the fire of ’95, but the slopes near the S-Bends had bare trunks visible for many years. But the fierce 2014 fire will go down in history and will, we hope, be a turning point in the adoption of proper fire management strategies for the island.
Fire adapted Banksia aemula
Although the bush looks devastated in parts, the natural processes will in time bring it back. In areas where the natural biodiversity has been replaced by miners’ revegetation the bush is reportedly more severely damaged and will likely need human intervention to replant and keep weeds under control.

Some plants of the coastal bushlands on Stradbroke Island have developed defences to survive fire, for example: pale reflective bark helps the ubiquitous scribbly gum hang on, while the thick insulating layers of warty-barked banksias and rugged ironbarks and blackbutt eucalypts help them tough it out, a multiplicity of delicate layers protect paperbarks. Survival of wetland species is high as long as there is standing water, but if the swamps are dry, peat fires can ignite and do immense harm.

One of the toughest plants on the island must be the amazingly fire resistant Xanthorrhoea johnsonii (grass tree). The trunk contains a protective resin which, when damaged, oozes like blood. But these wounded soldiers are survivors standing sentinel on the bare slopes of the high dunes watching for recovery.
Mallee gums sprouting – Eucalyptus planchoniana

Blackbutt forest survives
New leaves for koalas – Eucalyptus robusta
Conifer Podocarpus spinulosa – regenerating
Large parts of the island have fire dependant ecosystems with different species of plants having evolved mechanisms to reproduce, as they draw sustenance from the nutrient bearing ash bed. An indication of the continuing resiliance of the island bush is the pace of regeneration which has been quite astounding in many areas considering how little rainfall we have seen this year.

No one could help but feel for the poor creatures that had to endure the fire and for those who could not survive the onslaught. Not many dead or harmed animals were found after the fire. While there was no doubt a toll, animals have well known survival instincts and strategies. Faster moving animals have the ability to flee from fires while the slower creatures can sometimes successfully seek shelter by burrowing in the ground, under logs, hollows or in the base of tufted plants. Bushfires are uneven in intensity and moist gullies and creeks can provide nearby protection for a quick escape. According to reports some koalas were found in moist dips after the fire.

Recent scientific research does indicate that fortunately even after intense fires koalas recolonize burnt trees for food and shelter within 3 months. Other good news is that research also indicates that the specialized acid frogs that inhabit coastal wetlands tolerate fires as long as standing water is available.

Fires, it must be remembered, also create habitat. Dead trunks and burnt out hollows in old growth trees become homes for insects, reptiles, birds and gliders.

Clearing for mining and destruction of bushland in extremely hot burns puts recovery of the animals at risk. The fragmentation of habitat that we are seeing on Stradbroke, may prevent effective recolonisation of areas by different species. The best way to ensure the survival of animals and the island’s biodiversity and resilience is to retain large areas of intact and diverse bushland. Only well researched and effectively implemented fire management and cessation of clearing for sand mining can achieve this aim.

Fire management is undoubtedly a hot topic in Australia with preservation of human life always rightly given the first priority. But for those authorities and businesses who are given custody of our natural areas this often comes with a regulated obligation to manage fire regimes and on Stradbroke there has been a breakdown of miner Sibelco’s obligations. There is an urgent imperative for all landholders to develop fire management strategies consistent with their particular responsibilities. After all, out of control bushfires, contributed to by lack of fire management, don’t only threaten bushland but threaten life, homes and probably real estate values.

Traditional owners of the land understood fire much better than Europeans and an increased knowledge of their practices must inform future fire management.

Sue Ellen Carew