The Quandamooka people believe they have been undermined by the QLD State Government.
By Craig L Thomson.
There is money in the sand on North Stradbroke Island, lots of money. The Liberal National Party (LNP) was happy to be the beneficiary of some of that money from mining company Sibelco to help get Campbell Newman elected in Ashgrove in 2012. The money in those sands is at the heart of a political and legal battle that will play itself out up until the next Queensland State election.
North Stradbroke Island’s Quandamooka people have a spiritual connection to those sands that runs deeper than the waters off their beloved island. They are descended from a society of Aboriginal people who were in occupation of the land and waters of North Stradbroke at the time of first assertion of British sovereignty.
While the State Government sees money in sand mining, and may when permissible extend mining leases from 2019 to 2035 (see Editor’s note), the Quandamooka, who were granted native title of North Stradbroke Island by the Federal Court on 4 July 2011, see devastation of their dreaming places. They believe sand mining is stealing the beauty and sustainability of something more valuable than money and they want it to stop.
Quandamooka elder Aunty Evelyn Parker believes that mining has left them with big holes in their country
“It’s like a big sore with pus running out of it, seeping down the hillsides, into the lakes, onto the beach,” she said.
“Who cares about that? “What has mining left for us?”
Wildlife Queensland Vice President Simon Baltais claims that mining on North Stradbroke Island has already had a devastating effect on areas of high environmental significance within the Island’s fragile environment.
“There is a lack of understanding on the Queensland Government’s part as to the significance of the island’s environmental values and how they underpin the long term health of the island’s economy and its biodiversity,” he said.
“Mining has devastated many indigenous values, middens have been destroyed and lakes and wetlands have been damaged.
“The Queensland Government is focused on short-term economic gains rather than environmental values.”
According to Wildlife Queensland, Seventy-five percent of the 122 publicly available submissions to the State Parliament’s Agriculture, Resources and Environment Committee (AREC) opposed the Newman Government’s extension of mining leases on North Stradbroke Island.
However, The Minister for Natural Resources and Mines Andrew Cripps defended continuing sand mining on Stradbroke Island. Mr Cripps said that the Department of State Development, Infrastructure and Planning submitted an impact report to AREC that shows extending mining leases will provide economic benefits to Queensland.
“Extending mining leases from 2019 to 2035 will provide extra mineral production of $1.5 billion, royalties to the state of around $75.7 million and approximately 107 full-time equivalent positions from 2015 to 2035,” he said.
“Mining has played a significant role in the economy of the island.
“The current government is bound by what is in the Queensland Indigenous Land Use Agreement 2011 (ILUA). However, it is the government’s position that there is nothing in the ILUA that prevents the parliament from amending the current act to extend sand mining on North Stradbroke Island.”
Yet the Quandamooka people claim the ILUA they negotiated with the Queensland Government as part of the resolution of their native title claim provides an “iron clad” agreement with the State Government for mining to stop in 2019.
In April 2011 the Bligh State Government passed the North Stradbroke Island Protection and Sustainability Act (NSIPSA).
This act included key points of the ILUA and legislated the end of mining at the Yarraman Mine in 2015. This was already planned by privately owned Belgian mining company Sibelco. The act also facilitated an extension of mining, with a clearly defined mining path, at Enterprise Mine until December 2019. It is being argued that an extension maybe granted without Sibelco having to meet normal Queensland Mineral Resources Act requirements, according to the Quandamooka people. (See Editor’s note)
The Quandamooka-State of Queensland Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) was registered by the National Native Title Tribunal on 8 December 2011, which makes it enforceable in the Federal Court.
According to the Bligh State Government’s NSIPSA , full native title rights, as stated in the Federal Court Determination, would revert to the Quandamooka People in 2019.
The Quandamooka care for the land and believe they and their legal status as Traditional Owners of North Stradbroke Island has been ignored by the current Queensland State Government.
They believe in their native title rights and are prepared to fight for them.
The Quandamooka people lodged a High Court challenge on 6 June 2014, to defend their native title rights.They believe the Newman State Government has broken a deal struck with the State of Queensland in 2011.
The seeds of the Quandamooka people’s grievance were sown in the 2012 State election where Sibelco ran a campaign in the electorate of Ashgrove against the Bligh Government’s NSIPSA.
Sibelco spent over $90,000 on personalised letters that were sent to Ashgrove constituents under the guise of a group called ‘Straddie Mothers’, urging people to vote for Campbell Newman. This campaign was coupled with an aggressive social media campaign.
A budget estimates hearing in 2013 found that Sibelco and the Quandamooka people had unequal access to the Newman State Government after they were elected. Estimates records show that Sibelco representatives met with the State Government eight times over a two month period. The estimates hearing also heard that the Quandamooka people were granted only one meeting during this time.
Information obtained under Right to Information shows that Premier Newman approved the expediting of legislation to potentially extend sand mining (see Editor’s note) on North Stradbroke Island, and in November 2013 the North Stradbroke Island Protection and Sustainability and Another Act Amendment Act was passed into legislation, effectively enabling the potentiality for Sibelco to continue mining until 2035. (See Editor’s note)
Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation (QYAC) chief executive officer, Cameron Costello said that the LNP government ignored his people’s requests for consultation.
“The Quandamooka people consented to the reasonable compromise that was included in the 2011 North Stradbroke Island Protection and Sustainability Act,” he said.
“However, the Newman Government, for political reasons and without coming back to the Quandamooka people, has basically torn up our deal with the people of Queensland.
“We believe that is illegal and, in summary, we are asking the High Court to rule on that.”
State Parliament’s Agriculture, Resources and Environment Committee acknowledged that the LNP Government had not consulted the Quandamooka People before drafting the amendment Bill.
The Committee stated that this was a “clear breach of the legislative standard of having regard to Aboriginal tradition.”
However, Minister for Natural Resources and Mines Andrew Cripps said that according to the ILUA the Quandamooka people agreed to surrender and limit their ability to exercise some native title rights in exchange for compensation and other benefits.
“This compensation includes land ownership opportunities for the Quandamooka people as well as income and revenue sharing opportunities,” he said.
Premier Newman said he made a clear commitment before the 2012 State election to extend the end dates for sand mining that were contained in the 2011 Act.
“We said prior to the election and it was very clearly stated that we would, if elected, allow mining to continue in accordance with the original mining leases,” he said.
“That is all we are doing.”
QYAC CEO Cameron Costello said that repeated claims by Mr Newman that people voted to extend sand mining on Quandamooka people’s land are deceptive.
“We do not believe the people of Queensland voted to undermine our native title rights,” he said.
“Most people had no idea the LNP, if they won the election, were going to trample on the rights of traditional owners of the land and undermine their Indigenous land Use Agreement with the State of Queensland.
“If the Queensland Government gets away with this then no native title agreements, anywhere in the country, are safe. In that sense this is something of a test case for all native title holders, as well as being a case to defend the native title rights of the Quandamooka People. Aboriginal People around the country are watching these events closely.”
Native Title Lawyer and Legal Consultant Rob Powrie said that the Quandamooka people made serious concessions in negotiating their ILUA and this may have been a factor in the Bligh Government enacting legislation to give effect to the agreement.
“The fact that the Newman Government is attempting to repeal the legislation shows a distinct lack of good faith,” he said.
“I think Native Title Groups throughout Queensland would be deeply concerned about whether they can trust this government in any future negotiations.
“An ILUA is a contractual obligation on the parties. If the government seeks to terminate the agreement in any manner which gives rise to a breach of contract then it would be liable for damages.”
In a statement, Shadow Environment Minister Jackie Trad said that Queenslanders should be able to have full confidence in the decision-making processes of their Government and referred the Queensland Government and Sibelco to the CMC (now CCC) on 24th June 2014.
“The facts are that obtaining a public commitment from Campbell Newman to extend sand mining on Stradbroke Island was a key objective of Sibelco’s campaign in Ashgrove,” she said.
“The head of Sibelco told the Agriculture, Resources and Environment Committee that he had met with the Premier before the election.
“The map of mining lease areas in the legislation was provided by Sibelco and stamped as Sibelco’s map, and Sibelco is also the only company to have their environmental authority included in the legislation as requested in their briefing note to the Government.”
Ms Trad went on to say that the economic modelling used to justify the legislation was provided by Sibelco.
“Every single one of Sibelco’s requests made in their briefing note to the Government was met in the legislation,” she said.
Ms Trad also argued that the circumstances surrounding the extension of the Sibelco sand mining lease on North Stradbroke Island raised many questions surrounding political donations and legislative outcomes.
Ms Trad noted Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney referred Clive Palmer to the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC), after alleging on the ABC’s 7.30 that Palmer sought “specialist treatment” in April of 2012 to gain exclusive rights to “build a port and a railway and have control of the Galilee Basin.”
Ms Trad reminded the CCC that Mr Seeney also said he thought it would be “corrupt” to give Palmer such favouritism based on his financial support for the LNP and that he said any such treatment would have, “bypassed the proper process” of government.”
“In light of the Deputy Premier’s recent comments regarding ‘preferential treatment’ for LNP donors, I feel it important that the CCC fully investigates these issues,” she said.
Section 109 of the Australian Constitution states that when a law of a State is inconsistent with a law of the Commonwealth, the latter shall prevail, and the former shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be invalid.
In what the Quandamooka people see as a small victory, Justice Susan Kiefel in a directions hearing on the 28th of November, insisted the State include the Sibelco mining leases in the material for the High Court challenge. The State had been resisting this request.
Editor’s note: In the original version of this article it was stated incorrectly that the mining leases had been extended to 2035. Under the 2013 amendments to North Stradbroke Island Protection and Sustainability Act, mining lease extensions cannot be sought before 1 January, 2019. Because the Queensland Parliament could change the law again before then, a lease extension from 2019 to 2035 is currently potential but not certain. This article was amended accordingly on 13 December 2014.