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.
How is Straddie Mined?
Head in the Sand by Peter Cutcheon