Senior representatives of the traditional owners of North Stradbroke Island – the Quandamooka people – have rejected claims by premier, Campbell Newman, that his government has a mandate for its North Stradbroke Island Protection and Sustainability and Another Act Amendment Act 2013 (Qld), which extends sand mining on the island until 2035 without the consent of the Quandamooka people.
Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation (“QYAC”) chief executive officer, Cameron Costello, said continuing claims by Mr Newman that people voted for his policy to extend sand mining on the Quandamooka people’s land, without their consent, are spurious and will not go unchallenged any longer.
“QYAC does not believe people voted to undermine the native title rights of the Quandamooka people. The LNP did not tell voters this is what it intended to do,” Mr Costello said.
QYAC is the registered native title body corporate managing, as agent, the native title rights of the Quandamooka people. Last Friday, 6 June, QYAC lodged a writ with the High Court asserting the Queensland legislation breached the Commonwealth Native Title Act 1993. In response Mr Newman told the Queensland Parliament:
We said upfront prior to the election that we supported sandmining continuing on North Stradbroke Island. … We made it very clear that we supported sandmining continuing. We said that in the election campaign. (Hansard 6 June 2014, p. 2226)
On numerous occasions over the last two years Mr Newman has made similar claims whenever concerns about his government’s North Stradbroke Island legislation are raised.
Mr Costello said the fact is that, prior to the March 2012 State election, the Liberal National Party (LNP) clearly tried to characterize the issue as a battle between mining interests and environmental or “green” groups and the Bligh Government’s North Stradbroke Island policies as “about the politics of Green preferences” (Brisbane Times, 14 April 2011).
“Mr Newman and the LNP only ever talked about a Labor-Greens deal and completely failed to tell the people of Queensland that serious native title issues were also involved. Mr Newman, the LNP and mining company, Sibelco, misled the people of Queensland and the electorate of Ashgrove about the real nature of the issue.
“Most people had no idea the LNP, if they won the election, were going to trample on the rights of the traditional owners of the land and undermine their Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) with the State of Queensland.
“During this pre-election period a public affairs company, Rowland, was hired by the mining company, Sibelco, to help run a third party campaign on the issue, including in Mr Newman’s electorate of Ashgrove. Rowland does not even mention native title issues in the executive summary of its campaign overview document – Achieving social, environmental and economic progress in an island community: sand mining and its benefits on North Stradbroke Island (p. 2):
Rowland was engaged by Sibelco Australia to develop and implement a public affairs strategy to influence opinion and political decision-making around the continuation of its sand mining operations on Queensland’s North Stradbroke Island (NSI). This brief came after the then Premier Anna Bligh announced an accelerated timetable for the shut-down of sand mining by 2019, jeopardising the livelihood of a vibrant community and local economy underpinned by the industry for more than 45 years. The strategy’s goal was to ensure the continuation of sand mining until at least the original agreed 2027 timeframe.
Key objectives included demonstrating Sibelco’s contribution to the Island’s social, environmental and economic fabric, and long-term investment in sustainably managing its operations to secure NSl’s future. Based on an extensive research program, Rowland’s strategy focused on partnering with the local community – from creating a shared vision for NSl’s future through to a grassroots awareness campaign communicating ‘the Straddie Story’ throughout south-east Queensland. The strategy was extremely successful and the overall goal exceeded. The newly-elected government committed to extending sand mining operations to 2035, allowing ample time for Sibelco to complete its operations and for the NSI community to transition to alternate economic drivers.
“Rowland’s ‘Situation Analysis’ (p. 3) also completely fails to mention there was a recent native title determination dealing with North Stradbroke Island and an ILUA already in place between the Quandamooka people and the State of Queensland: Since the 1950s, sand mining has underpinned Queensland’s North Stradbroke Island (NSI) community and economy, providing direct and indirect employment opportunities, essential services, and support for community infrastructure, business and social enterprise.
In June 2010, Premier Anna Bligh announced plans to convert more than half of NSI to national park by 2011, and the complete phase-out of sand mining by 2027. This created considerable uncertainty for sand mining operator, Sibelco Australia, and the community. Sibelco began negotiations with government, proposing a staged end to mining by 2027.
However, in a surprise announcement in March 2011, the Premier declared an accelerated shutdown timetable by 2019. Rowland was engaged to develop and implement a public affairs strategy to influence public opinion and political decision-making, to ensure the continuation of sand mining until at least 2027. Several key challenges were involved in this task:
• Potential loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in company profits and related investment and royalties 2
• Potential detrimental impact on a local economy underpinned by sand mining operations
• Uncertainty created for 650 mine workers and over 2,000 residents whose livelihoods were at stake
• Confusion and debate in the general community about sand mining’s environmental and social impacts
• Divergent views about the appropriate balance between socioeconomic and environmental sustainability
• Political uncertainty in the lead-up to Queensland’s election on 24 March 2012.
“In fact, this so-called situation analysis completely fails to mention the Quandamooka people at all. Apparently, our status as traditional owners of much of the land is not part of the ‘Straddie story’. This is despite the fact the Bligh Government’s original legislation – the North Stradbroke Island Protection and Sustainability Act 2011 – took into account and balanced all the different interests at stake and, as such, was finalised with the consent of the Quandamooka people. “
As the explanatory memorandum to the original 2011 legislation stated:
For many years, there has been public discussion and debate about the interconnected issues of mining, Aboriginal land rights, and the environment on North Stradbroke Island (NSI). The Queensland Government decided that it was in the public interest to provide a balanced resolution of these issues to provide certainty to all stakeholders.
Therefore, no mandate to strip native title rights
“So it is clear that, in the lead up to the 2012 State election, Mr Newman, the LNP and Sibelco all but ignored the role of the Quandamooka people and native title issues in their campaign messaging.
“They bombarded the people of south-east Queensland, including the people of Ashgrove, with information incorrectly characterising it as simply a Labor-Greens preference issue or an environment versus jobs issue. This misinformation campaign negates any claim the LNP has to a mandate for its unilateral decision to tear up the deal between the Quandamooka people and the State of Queensland.
“So even if some people did vote to keep mining the island, they did not vote for mining at the expense of native title rights because no one explained that was the cost of his policy to extend mining. Those campaigning for mining only talked about parks versus mines.
“If Mr Newman wants to get people’s views on his government stripping native title rights from the Quandamooka people, in a manner that contravenes the Native Title Act, let him put it to the electorate properly at the next State election,” Mr Costello said.
Quandamooka High Court case and community campaign
The Newman Government introduced the controversial North Stradbroke Island Protection and Sustainability and Another Act Amendment Act in 2013. The Act extends sand mining on North Stradbroke Island until 2035 and expands the area of the island available to be mined, without the consent of the native title holders, the Quandamooka people.
The original North Stradbroke Island Protection and Sustainability Act 2011 was introduced by the Bligh Government, with the consent of the Quandamooka people. It extended the lease on the major North Stradbroke Island sand mine – the Enterprise Mine – until 31 December 2019 and restricted the area that could be mined within the Enterprise Mine leases. The major lease at Enterprise – ML1117 – expired in October 2007.
The Quandamooka people believe the Newman Government’s 2013 Act, amending the original 2011 Act, contravenes the Commonwealth Native Title Act 1993 and they are asking the High Court to rule on that.
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.
As well as the High Court case, the Quandamooka people are also running the Don’t Undermine our Rights community campaign, which seeks to redress the misconceptions and injustices created by that Sibelco campaign and the subsequent State Government actions in response to it. Don’t Undermine our Rights will include events around the G20 meeting in Brisbane and campaigning in key seats during the 2015 State election campaign. QYAC is calling for public donations to help fund the campaign.
People can donate at the Quandamooka Facebook site.
Media comment: Cameron Costello 0488-499 571
Media liaison: John Moran 0410-603 278
Read press release in attached PDF