Unlawful Straddie sand miner plays Mining and Energy (DEEDI) off against Environment and Resource Management (DERM)

Straddie, October 2015PUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Yarraman sand mine at north end of Straddie. Photo taken from ‘The Ledge’ on the Point Lookout side. Straddie is country of the Quandamooka people – land and sovereignty never ceded.

Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation (DEEDI) boasts  that it  is attracting exploration through its A$29.08 million Smart Mining – Future Prosperity program. It lists Belgium transnational Unimin Australia Ltd (UNIMIN) and Consolidated Rutile Ltd (CRL) as two of the mining companies that it has attracted in its program.

At the same time Queensland’s Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM) has charged UNIMIN with breaching the Integrated Planning Act, the Environmental Protection Act and Forestry Act for selling sand for some years without the necessary permits from the Redland Shire Council, Queensland’s Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM) or the Forestry Department.

Two Queensland Mining and Energy ministers (McGrady and Gilmore) confirmed in evidence in the trial today (7 September 2010) that they had allowed sand to be extracted from North Stradbroke Island. McGrady agreed that he had signed a document that allowed Straddie sand to be mined for a paltry 50 cents per tonne in royalties during his years as minister in the Labor government in the 1990s.

This is despite the provisions of the Mineral Resources Act 1989 (Qld) whose primary objectives include to:

  • encourage environmental responsibility in prospecting, exploring and mining; and,
  • ensure an appropriate financial return to the State from mining;

UNIMIN is required under its mining lease to put back all the sand it mines to recreate the original landform.

Conservationists argue the sand belonged on the island and should be used to fill in the mighty void left by Enterprise mine.  This huge mine containing ‘non-mineral sand’ – that the miner hoped to truck off the island at the rate of up to 500,000 tonnes per annum for a hundred years or more – can be seen from Mt Blaine near Peak Crossing over 60 kilometres away.

The Supreme Court of Queensland found in November 2009 and the Court of Appeal agreed in July 2010 the extraction and sale of non-mineral sand for construction purposes is unlawful. This non-mineral sand was claimed by UNIMIN to be a by-product of its silica extraction for use in glass making by ACI Operations Pty Ltd.

Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of sand (estimated value of $80M) has already been extracted by Unimin and transported by Moreton Tug & Barge Co Pty Ltd to be used in glass manufacture by ACI Operations Pty Ltd (ACI) and for unlawful use in the construction industry.

The first charge alleges UNIMIN removed and sold non-mineral sand from the Island without a permit under the Integrated Planning Act and the second that it did so without being registered under the Environmental Protection Act. There is an additional charge under the Forestry Act.

Time was taken up in court by Ralph Devlin (for UNIMIN) making submission that the charges were an abuse of process. He claimed that sufficient particulars had not been given by Queensland’s Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM). He was outraged by defects in the complaint saying the charges were ‘not properly framed’. Devlin pleaded on behalf of his clients (UNIMIN) that the defendants did not know the specifics of the complaint.

There was much argument between Devlin and Glynn (for DERM) over the requirements of the Justices Act specifically s45 and s48. Devlin claimed that two of the charges do not reveal an element of the offence. He claimed to have sent a letter to the prosecution on 2 February 2010 seeking further and better particulars but had received no reply. He claimed that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the charges. He said that his client extracts eight different types of sand from the island and that it was entitled to know the particulars of the first and second charges. He further claimed that

“Through a Right to Information request, we have uncovered direct approval by the Minister for Minerals and Energy in 1995 for the building sand product being categorised as a mineral, and subjected to a mineral royalty payment.”

Mr Devlin led evidence from two former ministers for mines, McGrady (Labor) and Gilmour (Nationals) that they had given permission for the building sand to be extracted from the island. The company claims it has been remitting royalties to the Queensland government for the sale of this by-product. However interest payments on unpaid royalties have been waived in the past by state governments. The reasons for this are unknown. Curiously Devlin claimed that his client did not have the faintest idea of what is the nature of the charge (regarding charges 1 and 2).

In a heated exchange senior counsel Devlin said he wished to use his forensic ability to expose deficiencies in the prosecution case. He claimed that if he gave the court an outline of his claim for abuse of process that senior counsel Anthony Glynn would counsel DERM officers to correct deficiencies in their complaint. Devlin was resisted an application by Glynn (for DERM) for an outline of why Devlin states that the prosecution in an abuse of process.

Magistrate Graham Lee will hand down his decision about whether the court has jurisdiction to hear the case against UNIMIN at a date to be set.

At the same time UNIMIN has sought leave to appeal to the High Court to overturn the Supreme of Court of Qld decision to declare the extraction of non-mineral sand from the island unlawful.

Evelyn Parkin and Dale Ruska outline their case against sand mining at the Redland Shire Council meeting on 19 August 2008.

Ian Curr
September 2010

How is Straddie Mined?

Unimin Australia Limited v State of Queensland [2010] – Court of Appeal decision QCA10-169

Head in the Sand by Peter Cutcheon

2 thoughts on “Unlawful Straddie sand miner plays Mining and Energy (DEEDI) off against Environment and Resource Management (DERM)

  1. Who is responsible? says:

    Open letter to Stradbroke Strategy team in Queensland’s Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM)
    I spoke to a member of your team this afternoon and, as that person was unable to answer my questions, I was advised to put my queries in writing.

    My questions specifically concern the operations of Unimin Australia Limited (and its subsidiaries) on North Stradbroke Island:

    1. Who is responsible for issuing mining leases for the extraction of silica, rutile and ‘non-mineral’ sand?

    2. What mining leases have expired and who is responsible for renewing expired leases?

    3. Which expired leases currently held are to be renewed (if any)?

    4. What criteria are used in the issuing of those licences for the extraction of silica, rutile and ‘non-mineral’ sand?

    5. Who is responsible for making sure the licences are adhered to i.e. that low grade silica is not extracted under the pretext that it is a mineral? What inspections are carried out, by whom and how often?

    6. Who is responsible for collecting the sand mining royalties and what are the current royalty rates for the extraction of silica, rutile and ‘non-mineral’ sand?

    7. Who makes sure the payments are correct and are paid on time?

    8. Who waives interest charges on unpaid royalties and what criteria are used to waiver of such charges?

    I look forward to your replies to these questions.

    If you have any queries concerning them please contact me at the number below.

    Ian Curr
    Ph: 07 3398 5215
    Mob: 0407 687 016
    Web: Workers BushTelegraph

  2. Letter to shareholders of Unimin Australia Pty Ltd says:

    I have done some brief internet searches on the Belgian owners of Unimin Australia Pty Ltd. Unimin is owned by SCR Sibelco NV (other people interested in preserving Straddie have probably done searches more than I).

    Apart from Sibelco’s main website WikiPedia gives some interesting historical background at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sibelco

    Sibelco claims on its website that:

    “Respect for legislation, agreements and procedures are top of the agenda.”

    I wrote to Sibelco using a form on its website @ http://www.sibelco.be/ (so what I could say was limited). Others may wish to write your own message or questions to Sibelco.

    This is what I said:

    “Are Sibelco shareholders aware that their subsidiary Unimin Australia Pty Ltd have been unlawfully extracting sand from North Stradbroke Island near Brisbane.

    The Island is claimed by the Quandamooka people who have maintained continuous connection with their island since colonisation in the 18th century.

    Unimin’s sand mining is destroying one of the most beautiful sand islands in the world.”

    Ian Curr
    September 2010

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