The Stafford by-election swing of over 18% against the LNP conveyed a dramatic message. The public has had enough of the extreme decisions of the Newman government. This brings sharper focus to Campbell Newman’s “cash for legislation” deal with North Stradbroke sand miner Sibelco.
Following the deal, the Newman government spread misinformation to the media over its November 2013 amendments to North Stradbroke Island sand mining legislation.
An absence of fact checking by the media led to false reports that sand mining had already been extended to 2035. In the public interest, these require correction. Some media outlets have begun to make corrections.
If the Newman amendments are not repealed, the financial benefit to Sibelco,the privately owned Belgian mining company, could be $1.5 Billionby its own reckoning – see Jackie Trad.com.au – stop sandmining Straddie. But contrary to media reporting, an extension of mining at the Enterprise sand mine to 2035 (or 2027, as Sibelco previously sought) is not scheduled to occur until 2019. This is because relevant mining leases do not expire until 31 December, 2019.
In a revised article titled “Clive Palmer, Jeff Seeney and Campbell Newman’s Straddie donation”, published by the online newspaper Independent Australia.net, highly respected barrister Stephen Keim SC recently agreed that Sibelco cannot apply to extend the time frame for sand mining until 2019.
Parliament can repeal the Newman amendments at any time before 2019. That is likely to occur without a change of government, if the native title owners win their High Court action for a declaration that he Newman amendments are invalid under the Australian constitution.
The Newman government has misled the media and the public into believing that sand mining has already been extended to 2035 to quell dissent from the many who want to see the Queensland icon protected. If people think the extension has already occurred, maybe they will think it’s a waste of time talking about repealing the Newman amendments?
The reality is that even if the native title challenge to the validity of the amendments fails, if the LNP is voted out before 2019, the Newman amendments can be repealed by a future parliament. No compensation would be payable to Sibelco. Section 6 of the North Stradbroke Island Protection and Sustainability Act specifically rules out compensation.
This would not be an unjust result. Sibelco purchased the mine in 2009 knowing that a key mining lease had expired in 2007 and had not been renewed. It was also aware that under the State’s expired lease laws there were legal obstacles to renewal of expired North Stradbroke mining leases. It also knew that there was significant opposition from indigenous owners, environment groups and others.
The Fraser Island Inquiry in 1976 concluded that sand mining causes “major, permanent and irreversible environmental harm.” The Federal government accepted the findings and ended sand mining on Fraser almost immediately. The Bjelkie-Petersen government’s request for a two year transition was rejected.
Stradbroke’s future clearly depends upon its natural environment being protected. It is remarkable that Campbell Newman, with a straight face, can talk about a so called ‘transition’ away from mining of 22 years when 40 years ago Joh Bjelkie Petersen would have settled for 2 years for Fraser Island !
Richard Carew is a city-based lawyer and active member of Friends of Stradbroke Island