Communist Party of Australia

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Issue #1606      August 14, 2013

Sand mining fears for Quandamooka

Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation (QYAC) chair Cameron Costello is deeply concerned that a close relationship between the Queensland government and sandmining company Sibelco could see sandmining on North Stradbroke Island extended without permission of the traditional owners. “The effects of mining, as one of our Elders put it, are erasing the footsteps of our ancestors,” he told the Koori Mail.

“That hits it on the head.

“You can understand why some of our mob worked for the mines; you need to pay for your family. But the Quandamooka people as a whole decided on an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) that brought a complete end to mining in favour of more caring for country.”

When the Bligh government passed the North Stradbroke Island Protection and Sustainability Act in 2011 QYAC was overjoyed that sandmining would be phased out by 2019, ending nearly six decades of community division for which the traditional owners had received no compensation.

Having had their native title rights recognised by the Federal Court on July 4, 2011, and signing an ILUA that included compensation and the transition to joint management of Naree Budjong Djara National Park, QYAC thought they were on pretty safe ground transitioning to a sandmining-free economy for their land.

However, Sibelco, the privately-owned Dutch mining company that owned sandmining licences on North Stradbroke Island, felt differently. Sibelco contracted communications consultants Rowland, who ran an aggressive and public campaign against the decision, which convinced Queensland Premier Campbell Newman, who told ABC radio recently that the LNP had run on a platform of extending sandmining on North Stradbroke Island.

Mr Costello said QYAC felt like the state government and mining company were “ganging up”. “QYAC believes that the mining on North Stradbroke Island should be done as agreed to in the Act and that any extension has to be done with the permission of the traditional owners because it is our land,” he said. “We’ve had conversations with the government but none where they have said or tabled a proposal about extending sandmining.

“We met Mining Minister Andrew Cripps in May and he didn’t table a proposition and said it was up to the mining company. We haven’t met with the mining company because they told us they want legislation to be passed first.

“Good faith”

“The Quandamooka have always acted in good faith and we expect the Queensland government and the mining company to act in good faith.

“The Quandamooka people are very disappointed with the government and the mining company not coming to us and dealing on a level playing field.”

Sibelco registered for a third party campaign in the 2012 state election, posting a late return saying they had spent $91,840.

Mr Newman refused to answer a question on whether any of that money had been spent in his electorate of Ashgrove, which he won from Labor’s Kate Jones, but the Koori Mail understands the mining company posted letters without required disclosure urging a vote for Mr Newman in Ashgrove.

Sibelco did not answer a question by the Koori Mail asking in which electorates it spent the money, saying the campaign was “not aligned to any political party”.

However, according to material regarding the Sibelco campaign, available on Rowland’s website but now removed, “In January 2012, then-Opposition Leader Campbell Newman announced that, if elected, he would overturn the Bligh government’s decision. His public commitment made on Brisbane radio underlined the key arguments in favour of extended sandmining made by Sibelco Australia’s public affairs campaign.”

In a recent Budget Estimates hearing, Labor MP Jo-Ann Miller accused Minister Cripps and the LNP of a “filthy, dirty, rotten deal” regarding the extension of sandmining on North Stradbroke Island.

Ms Miller said that according to the Integrity Commissioner’s website, the government had meetings on eight separate dates in two months with Sibelco.

Mr Cripps refused requests for an interview or to answer email questions.

However, ABC TV’s 7.30 obtained a ministerial briefing paper by Sibelco on how to frame new legislation and a pre-cabinet government circular seeking permission to put this proposal into practice. The documents say mining at Enterprise (the largest mine) will extend through to 2035, eight years longer than had been announced.

They also say legislation extending the leases could be found invalid.

“We felt safe when we signed the ILUA regarding federal legislation that our rights were safe, but it appears the Queensland government wants to act solely for the benefit of the mining company,” Mr Costello said.

He said he was also concerned about health impacts from sandmining.

“I’m worried about radiation levels, dust from trucks and dust in the marine park area on oyster leases,” he said. “But the other issue is the effect mining has setting Quandamooka people against each other.

“Our community has been divided by mining, and the companies run very sophisticated campaigns of divide and conquer. They employ some of our mob and they’re adept at sowing seeds of conflict.

“My concern is that this is happening again; that it’s reopening old wounds just when they were starting to heal, because we were able to focus on other pillars of the economy: tourism, forests, and sustainable industries. We’ve got investors keen to invest – now that’s throwing that in doubt as well.

“Once again history is repeating. We’re being pushed aside. After 19 years of struggling for our native title rights and having the Federal Court grant a consent determination, the government, within two years, is legislating to get out of it,” he said.

“It raises questions about the Native Title Act, because essentially, if the Newman government gets away with breaking the ILUA with the Quandamooka, what could be flow-on effects for the rest of the country?

“We need Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the country to support the Quandamooka because if the Newman government gets away with this, every state government will be after them.

“Our door is always open to meet with the Premier and Mining Minister, any of his mob, and I hope we can have a constructive relationship with the government, with joint management of the national park, but, if we have to drag them kicking and screaming to do it properly, we’ll do it.”

Koori Mail  

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