Will the Greens stop sand mining on Straddie and restore the land to the Quandamooka people?
During the federal election campaign Larissa Waters (elected as a QLD Senator) promised to stop the state government from allowing sand mining on North Stradbroke Island and to restore the land to its rightful owners, the Quandamooka people.
Will the Greens honour her promise? Will they be able?
Many Australians think we live in a democracy.
However it is more accurate to say that our system of government is based on patronage.
This means that someone will give you something if you will give them something in return.
The Greens are most likely to be sitting on the cross-benches in the new federal parliament with 9 senators and 1 member of the house of reps.
Larissa Waters proposed the use of Federal Government Customs regulations to force the state government to stop sand mining on Stradbroke Island immediately.
Recently Anna Bligh has extended expired mining leases on Straddie out till 2027.
Larrissa Waters, an environmental lawyer, argued that Customs powers were used to stop sand mining on Fraser Island in the 1970s and that the same could be done on Straddie. At the time Fraser Island was world heritage listed, Straddie is not. It was the world heritage listing that made it possible for the federal governmen to intervene with its customs powers. This is not the case with Straddie.
Can the Greens fulfill Waters’ promise using her legal strategy?
Firstly the Greens would have to get the incoming executive in the federal government to agree to such a plan and then for them to implement it. It is likely that there would be a high court challenge to such a proposal if not from mining interests, by the state government itself.
As we have seen in the past few weeks neither Julia Gillard nor Tony Abbott are too keen on taking on mining companies. They have gone soft on forcing the big mining companies paying a bigger tax on our unsustainable resources (coal etc). If they want big transnational to pay more tax why shouldn’t smaller companies pay more? Why shouldn’t all companies shell out for parental leave not just the big ones as Tony Abbott proposed during the election campaign?
We all know that UNIMIN, the owners of the mining leases on Straddie, does not have the patronage of a BHP-Billiton or Rio Tinto.
Will the new senator for Queensland be able to convince her colleagues in the parliament that her plan is viable?
Only time will tell, but I doubt it. It would take a large extraparliament movement to make this possible. Such a movement does not currently exist — not on the scale of the environment movement of the 1970s anyway. On the positive side it was a Labor government, under extreme pressure from the environment movement, that stopped mining on Fraser Island — but Labor were not as caught up in economic rationalism back then either.
The Greens are able to put up private members bills but they lack the power to invoke Customs regulations. They would have to convince the executive. This mean buidling a strong movement outside the parliament. But the Greens have put all their energy into getting Larissa Waters inside the parliament. This is the Catch 22 of the environment movement.
The second part of her promise was that the Greens would ensure that the Quandamooka people would have custodianship of the land on Straddie.
Larissa Waters did not explain how the Greens would go about doing this. However the existing Native Title claim has yet to be recognised despite being lodged 16 years ago by the Quandamooka people. See previous artcles and letters sent to the Native Title Tribunal on WBT about this.
Here is Larissa Waters making those promises on behalf of the Greens at a Forum at University of Queensland on 18 Aug 2010