Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Why we should save Straddie

North Stradbroke Island (NSI) is the only sand island off the south-east coast of Queensland not protected against the environmental devastation of sand mining. It is the closest of these islands to the major population centre of Greater Brisbane, which has an ever increasing need of open space for its citizens who would benefit from ending sand mining and declaring National Park.

There is a growing alliance of local and regional community groups and organisations concerned about the future of North Stradbroke Island (1). The goal is to end sand mining on the island. There is a unique opportunity to do so. More than a dozen of the mining leases have expired. Some expired up to two years ago and some are large in area, including leases currently being mined pending decisions on applications to renew the leases for periods in excess of 20 years.

The mining companies have no "right" to renewal of expired leases. The Government has an unfettered discretion to refuse, and in fact may not renew unless the Minister is satisfied of each of a number of factors - in particular that the public interest will not be adversely affected by renewal. (2)

Currently, mining leases cover 70% of the Island and the public is excluded under threat of prosecution.

Although damage has been done by mining, much of the island remains unravaged. But it is in danger and needs our collective assistance. It is time to save Straddie. These are some of the reasons for doing so:-

Ten compelling reasons to stop sand mining
1. Save old growth forests, woodlands and everything else in the path of the mines

Sand mining is extremely destructive. Almost everything in the mine path is completely destroyed.

Post-mining "rehabilitation" is a poor substitute for ancient dunes and the complex ecosystems which depend upon them remaining intact.

2. Preserve the island’s remarkable bio- diversity
The island is universally acknowledged as having incredible diversity in flora and fauna. This was reflected recently by Premier Anna Bligh –
“The Bligh Government recognises that Stradbroke Island is a valuable natural asset to the people of south east Queensland. The Bligh Government also recognises that this is an area that needs to be protected and preserved for future generations.” (3)

3. Hydrology – the extensive acquifer must be protected, not put at risk.
Stradbroke Island was formed by the deposition and erosion of dunes over thousands of years. The mechanism of water moving through these layers is not fully understood, nor the effect of this hydrological system on flora and fauna appreciated. Mining has already caused damage to freshwater lakes on the Island – further damage is a serious risk if mining continues.

4. Protect the unique Island koala
Island koalas are genetically different from mainland koalas, having been isolated for up to 8000 years. Genetic data indicates that Stradbroke Island has the only naturally occurring island population. Other island populations have been introduced. This means that the Stradbroke koala population is of very high conservation value. (4)

5. We need more National Parks The Bligh Government recognizes the acute need for more national parks and public open space. South East Queensland has 19% public open space compared to Greater Sydney's 49%! See http://www.thepremier.qld.gov.au/tomorr ow/environment/index.aspx and http://www.thepremier.qld.gov.au/tomorr ow/environment/land_conservation.aspx

6. Create an economy based on preservation not destruction

It's time to replace the temporary, ever-dwindling number of jobs in a destructive industry, with permanent jobs based upon National Parks and low impact, well-managed eco-tourism. There are opportunities for co-management of parks and jobs for the island's Indigenous land claimants. More mining puts these jobs at risk because tourists are attracted by intact ancient dunes and their complex ecosystems.

7. Citizens’ rights before miners’ rights
Our opposition to sand mining on Stradbroke is specific. We are not anti- mining per se. But, it is one thing to mine in outback Queensland. It is quite another to lock up 70% of NSI under mining leases and to mine a fragile coastal environment within a short distance of major population centres in need of more public open space.

8. Areas being mined are zoned ‘Conservation’
The Redlands Planning Scheme, approved and gazetted by the State Government in 2006, designates that most of the Island is zoned "conservation", including the areas being mined by CRL and Unimin. Ending mining and declaring the Island National Park is the only logical way to "conserve" the Island and put into effect the policy that the Island... "needs to be protected and preserved for future generations." (5)

9. The Global Context
In 1990, Darryl Briskey, the ALP member for Redlands, after announcing the Goss government‟s intention to declare 50% of the island National Park (which did not happen) - also said this...
“We must not forget that ultimately the environment sustains all life. If we do not act quickly to protect it, our quality of life will deteriorate and, eventually, continued environmental destruction will mean an end to humanity.” (6)
The responsibility and the need for government to take the lead here is now much more acute than it was in 1990. We must "think globally, act locally".

10. It’s Stradbroke’s turn
Despite the less acute global environmental and other reasons for doing so, the Liberal/ National Party Government under Malcolm Fraser stopped sand mining on Fraser Island in the 1970's. Similarly, sand mining has been stopped on Moreton Island, Cooloola and at Shelburne Bay in North Queensland by previous ALP State Governments. It is time for the Bligh Government to stop sand mining on Stradbroke Island.

Why we need to act now
We appreciate that this may be a long campaign. However, it can be successful.

North Stradbroke Island is on the doorstep of a large population which is increasing at a very rapid rate as a result of government policy. Most people are concerned about the decline in their quality of life in recent years and understand that it has been brought about by a combination of rapid population growth and a lack of infrastructure to support it. A related issue is the limited public open space. The Premier's website acknowledges that already there is an acute shortage of public open space. Our area has 19% compared to Greater Sydney's 49 %. If the Government does not correct the imbalance, it risks suffering at the ballot box in South-East Queensland for this reason alone.

In addition, now that the damage being caused on NSI has been exposed by the Courier-Mail and commercial television news, the Government's environmental credentials are at risk. People in the Greater Brisbane area and beyond generally are aware of and interested in the Island and most people have stayed on or visited the Island to surf, fish, enjoy the beaches, birdwatch or just relax in the peace and quiet. They care what happens and will take note of the decisions made that affect it.

The State already is the legal owner of the vast majority of land on NSI. By ending sand mining and, in consultation with native title claimants, dedicating this land as National Park, it will assist the Government to solve the public open space shortage. It will also demonstrate that it does care about the environmental destruction of the Island and has acted to save it from further damage. Refusal of all applications to renew expired mining leases is the first step.


More detailed reasons for ceasing sand mining and information about the relatively new category of National Park (recovery), which would be suitable for mined land in need of rehabilitation, are available from FOSI upon request. 


1 See list on page 5.
2 Mineral Resources Act, section 286A.
3 The letter was written on the Premier's behalf in March 2009 by her senior policy advisor and sent to those who emailed the premier about CRL‟s attempts to extend its sand mining operations to selling island sand for construction purposes. The letter also stated that the Bligh government supported the Redland City Council's rejection of CRL's proposal, but to date the Government has done nothing to actively support the RCC's decision.
4 Shown by research carried out under the direction of Frank Carrick of the University of Qld .
5 letter from the Premier sent to people a week before the March, 2009 State election – see footnote 2.
6 Hansard, 8/5/90, p. 1150