Sunday, 31 July 2011

High Court Victory

In the High Court of Australia in Canberra on June 9 the mining company’s final attempt to prolong the mining industry on Stradbroke for another 100 years was rejected. This brings to an end the company's plan to remove and sell large quantities of island sand for construction purposes. The new NSI legislation at least prevents any future application for Council approval.

FOSI, SIMO, native title owners, other conservationists and members of the local community waged a lengthy legal battle and were rewarded with a significant victory.

This proposal involved noisy and polluting trucks roaring through the streets of Dunwich and clogging up the ferry terminal entry point, at a rate of one every three minutes. It also would have meant continued domination of the island by the mining industry long after extractable minerals had run out.

All this impact on safety and peace of islanders and tourists was for the sake of ten jobs! (This figure was contained in the company’s application for planning permission to the Redland City Council).

Sand heaps now need revegetation.
North Stradbroke Island High Court decision means more than meets the eyeThe recent High Court decision (9.6.11) rejecting sand mining company Sibelco’s attempt to cling on to its construction sand business proposal exposes the deception in both the miner’s and the government’s public statements about the potential future of mining on Stradbroke.

Some background is necessary. Sibelco is a privately owned Belgian company which owns all three sand mines on the island. It has owned the smaller Vance silica mine since 2001. In mid- 2009 it bought the two mineral sand mines (extracting zircon, rutile and ilmenite) from Consolidated Rutile Limited, then a public company. This was Sibelco’s first mineral sand mining venture.

Prior to selling out, CRL had duties to report honestly to its shareholders and the Stock Exchange. It revealed (see fact sheets) that mineral sand mining on Stradbroke Island would end by 2027 – perhaps as early as 2020 – assuming expired leases were renewed. CRL announced that, to prolong company profits via mining interests on the Island, it had a proposal to sell non-mineral sand to the construction industry. It commenced stockpiling sand, ignoring rehabilitation obligations. The Government turned a blind eye, and continues to ignore these huge stockpiles which can be seen from the mainland.

In late 2007 CRL lodged an application with the Redland City Council for planning permission to remove and sell 500,000 tonnes of sand per year. Based on the size of its stockpile, CRL could have had a continuing business for another 100 + years. To enhance the company’s value, CRL made no secret of this future plan.

Although the local council rejected the proposal in August 2008, the company appealed, maintaining it was confident the council decision would be overturned in the Courts. CRL nevertheless decided that it was time to sell out to Sibelco – before the appeals were heard.

The High Court decision exposes the Government to ridicule. In April 2011 the Government,led by Anna Bligh and Kate Jones, the then Environment minister, rushed through the North Stradbroke  Island Protection and Sustainability Act. It is a misnomer. It neither protects nor sustains the Island, rather it sidestepped existing laws to renew critical expired leases to enable destructive mineral sand mining to continue until 31 December, 2019. The so-called Enterprise ‘restricted mine path’ within the Act, used to sell the plan to some environmentalists, has recently been doubled in size by the Environment minister, reducing the amount of area ‘saved’ by 62%. Unfortunately this increase was predictable – see the FOSI/SIMO submission to all MP’s prior to the Bill being passed without amendment. The Act also extended other key expired leases to allow the Vance silica mine to continue until 2025, despite the Court of Appeal’s findings relating to unlawful mining and unresolved criminal charges relating to that mine.

View from the ferry.
The government has portrayed itself as protecting Straddie’s environment. Prior to the High Court decision it may have convinced some people that allowing destructive sand mining to continue for another 14 years was reasonable when measured against a 100+ year mining related future, deceptively referred to by the Bligh government in various attempts in the media and parliament to justify its actions. But now that the High Court has finally stripped that future away, the real measuring stick becomes Fraser Island. In 1976, sand mining was stopped on Fraser in just 6 weeks, despite the same scaremongering about economic doom as we have seen from Sibelco. No one regrets ending mining on Fraser Island. It’s Stradbroke’s turn to be protected in fact, rather than fiction.