Fresh allegations of unlawful Stradbroke Island sand sales emerge as court case draws to end
As one of Queensland’s longest running environmental prosecutions draws to a close, the ABC has been given fresh evidence that unlawful sales of Stradbroke Island sand have continued even as the court case has been underway.
Traditional owners engaged a private detective who made a recording they say shows a Brisbane landscape supply company called Riverside Sands offering sand for sale.
Riverside Sands is a longstanding customer of Belgian mining giant Sibelco, which operates Stradbroke Island’s three mining leases.
In the recording made in February last year and obtained by 7:30, the investigator poses as a homeowner wanting North Stradbroke island sand for a rendering job – a purpose courts have found to be in breach of the mining permit.
Investigator on recording: It comes from North Stradbroke Island, eh?
Riverside Sands representative: It comes over from Stradbroke, yes.
Investigator: From that Sibelco crowd, is it?
Riverside Sands representative: From who, sorry?
Investigator: Sibelco? Sibelco, Sibelco, Sibelco?
Riverside Sands representative: Yep.
Investigator: They’re the ones that actually do the mining and you get it off of them?
Riverside Sands representative: Yep.
Sibelco declined to be interviewed but in a statement said it stopped selling building sand in 2008.
“We take our legal obligations seriously,” the statement said.
“Sibelco periodically reminds customers of the permitted use of these products and has specifically communicated these expectations to Riverside Sand on a number of occasions.”
Riverside Sands also declined to be interviewed but said in a statement it was unaware it was doing anything wrong.
“Riverside Industrial Sands was not previously aware of the conditions attached to Sibelco Australia Limited’s sand mining lease on the sale by Sibelco of mineral sands,” it said.
It’s become a bit of a mockery and it’s a miscarriage of criminal justice.
Traditional owner Dale Ruska
“Riverside Industrial Sands immediately removed the sand for sale, removed the website reference to the sand being for sale, and sourced another supplier of sand for sale to our clients.”
Richard Carew, an environmental lawyer and mine opponent, sent the transcripts of the recordings to the Queensland Government and says they failed to investigate.
That has angered traditional owner Dale Ruska, a staunch opponent to the mine.
“It’s become a bit of a mockery and it’s a miscarriage of criminal justice because if the average individual was to commit a crime equivalent to that which the company has committed, you could guarantee that they would be charged and prosecuted with committing a serious indictable offence,” Mr Ruska said.
Queensland’s Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie, who also declined to be interviewed, issued a statement to 7:30.
“The most appropriate authority to investigate any allegations of theft is the Queensland Police Service and I have repeatedly advised the complainants to make a complaint to police,” he said.
“It is inappropriate to comment further on matters currently before the court.”
Queensland Police also declined to investigate the new claims, citing the current prosecution.
Long history of rows over sand
For decades Belgian mining giant Sibelco and its predecessors shipped as much as a million tonnes of building sand off the island, as well as the higher grade mineral sand they are entitled too on their lease.
“Sibelco can take Silica sand if it’s used for its chemical properties – glass making, if it mines it for use for landscaping or building and construction purposes – it has to have local government approval and it didn’t have that so it’s been doing it unlawfully,” said lawyer Richard Carew, who represents traditional owners.
“There was also a condition that requires the company to rehabilitate the land to the best of its ability.”
In 2009 Sibelco was brought to court facing two alleged breaches of planning laws over taking sand its licence did not allow. Final submissions on that case will be heard by a magistrate in Warwick tomorrow.
Over the past five years Sibelco has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars attempting to have the case thrown out of court.
Sibelco and its predecessors on the island believe the prosecution is unfair saying they had always paid royalties on all sand that left Stradbroke Island.
In a statement the company said: “Sibelco has at all times been transparent with the relevant government departments about the nature of the products supplied their intended purposes and paid the appropriate royalties.”
In June this year Queensland’s Labor Opposition asked the state’s Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) to investigate a campaign the company ran in support of the LNP at the last election.
Sibelco was granted a possible 16-year extension of its mining lease after the election.
In a statement, the CCC said it was still assessing the information sent to it.
“The assessment of this matter is yet to be finalised.
“It is important to note that the assessment of a matter does not imply any wrongdoing.
“The CMC also reminds the public that an assessment is not an investigation.”
Sibelco and the Queensland Government have maintained there was nothing improper about the election campaign or mining legislation.