Thursday, 1 December 2011

National Park & Mining - Compatible?


Sourced from the Financial Review 09/09/2011

The Proposed National Park

The government’s vision for North Stradbroke Island includes declaring further national park by the end of 2011. The area to be added to that declared in March this year will result in approximately 50% of the island becoming national park. While any declaration of any area as national park is obviously something we welcome because it enhances protection, how much credit does the government deserve? The new national park will in fact bear a close resemblance to the proposed national park map published in the mining company's own documents for a number of years, including in CRL's draft Enterprise Environmental Studies Report in 2002. The same map has also been regularly published in official company documents since. It is worthwhile comparing that map with the latest DERM national park map. Go to www.savestraddie.com to view both maps, under the 'library' tab. Unfortunately, a significant proportion of the new national park will be degraded land – degraded by decades of sand mining. The undamaged areas included were not destined to be mined or were already protected from mining under the RAMSAR wetlands treaty which includes significant areas (not only 18 Mile Swamp). Large areas of Stradbroke, incredibly, including land being mined now, are also listed as part of the "national estate". Again, the maps of the national estate areas can be viewed at the savestraddie website.

Mining National Park

As island environmentalists, our focus, naturally, has been on the areas under threat – the hundreds of hectares that are destined to be destroyed by sand mining over the next 14 years unless there is a change of government policy. The ultimate insult to the environment of NSI is that this government's 'vision' is to declare these threatened areas 'national park' – after they have been destroyed by mining. This is a disgraceful and irresponsible policy, which sets a dangerous precedent, and the government needs to be told this loud and clear.

The Threat

A number of key mining leases granted for 21 years in the dying days of the Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen era expired in recent years. This government had an unprecedented opportunity to bring mining to an end – all it had to do was apply Queensland’s expired lease laws. Those laws, in the Mineral Resources Act 1989, were intended to be applied to mining leases as they expired. Those laws contain balanced provisions designed to protect the environment of special places, where mining leases should never have been granted in the first place. Sadly, the government chose to protect the billion dollar profits of a foreign mining company and short term destructive jobs (less than 14% of island jobs), using special legislation to extend the key expired leases, by passing the laws which still apply everywhere else in Queensland. In extending mining for another 14 years, the government gave the mining company almost all it really wanted, given that commercial mineral deposits largely would have been exhausted by then anyway. In the process, the government has left the door open for a future government, LNP OR ALP, to give the company absolutely everything – it would just require a simple amendment of the inappropriately named North Stradbroke Island Protection and Sustainability Act 2011.

At Risk

The island’s complex natural hydrological system may be further damaged by deep dredge mining. Perched and window lakes, coastal fringing swamps, mangroves and wetlands, including 18 Mile Swamp have all suffered impacts. Increased protection is overdue. Moreton Bay relies on the island systems for its health and recovery. Stradbroke’s massive aquifer, supplying Redlands with pure water, is also under threat, like aquifers the world over. More mining will put at risk the ability of intact areas to nurture the recovery of mining rehabilitation. Scientific opinion maintains a tipping point is close and degradation may lead to collapse of the entire island ecosystem. The Queensland Museum recognizes North Stradbroke Island as having the most diverse vegetation and fauna of all the Moreton Bay Islands and lists sand mining as one of the significant threats to the bay, in their newly-released handbook Wild Guide to Moreton Bay. Ecotourism seems to be a lynchpin of the government vision for the island, providing sustainable employment, yet ecosystem collapse will leave us with a version of the Gold Coast which certain development lobbyists would relish. Stradbroke would no longer be the peaceful place to live or escape from big city life it should be.