The public has been told by the Environment Minister, the Mines Minister, the Deputy Premier and by the Premier herself, that Labor will end mining in 2019, but the repeal bill has still not been introduced. Photo: Robert RoughDuring the January election campaign the Labor party promised to “act immediately to repeal the disgraceful North Stradbroke Island Protection and Sustainability Amendment Act”.
The LNP’s amending legislation extended mining company Sibelco’s mining interests on North Stradbroke Island, potentially to 2035.
The Bligh government’s 2011 legislation extended expired mining leases to 2019 but imposed a restricted mine path of 337 hectares. Sibelco was dissatisfied and became a very substantial financial supporter of the LNP and Campbell Newman prior to the 2012 election. The subsequent “cash for legislation deal” called into question Newman’s honesty and the Quandamooka people launched a High Court challenge.
Throughout the events, Sibelco also was on trial for criminal charges connected with unlawful sand mining activities on Stradbroke.
Although Labor’s “immediate repeal” promise has been broken, the Labor government has consistently said it would repeal the LNP’s amendments and that mining would end in 2019. But the delay in acting has been remarkable. Is Labor sliding back into old habits of spin and trickery? Or is it just too slow or incompetent to act?
The Institute’s October 8 report “Too close for comfort”, which exposed the mining industry’s undue influence over some politicians and public servants in Queensland, may also provide some insight. The institute refers to Stradbroke in its hard-hitting forward.
Labor’s inaction has led to the current situation where member for Cook Billy Gordon announced that he might not support the repeal.
The LNP’s controversial legislation extending the mining interests of Sibelco, potentially gifting the company $1.5 billion in revenue, genuinely disgusted many people. It was an election issue, with both the Quandamooka people and Friends of Stradbroke Island leafleting Ashgrove and other electorates to ensure that voters knew more about the scandal.
Jackie Trad, in a dissenting parliamentary report in 2013, said that the LNP’s legislation “had all the hallmarks of a morally corrupt cash for legislation deal”. Labor promised to hold an inquiry into it.
Since the election, the public has been told by the Environment Minister, the Mines Minister, the Deputy Premier and by the Premier herself, that Labor will keep its election promise to end mining in 2019, but the repeal bill has still not been introduced into parliament.
Last Friday Ms Trad said the 2019 end date was “set in stone”. A few days later, Mr Gordon, whose vote is essential, announced that he had concerns about Labor’s policy. This is recent. In June I spoke to Mr Gordon and he told me he had no concerns about the repeal of the Newman amendments. He told me the repeal was supported by the majority of North Stradbroke Island Aboriginal people. I had also sent him information about the legislative favours for Sibelco, including a copy of a paper which I presented to a corruption-related conference held in Brisbane in February this year.
In April, I spoke with Labor’s Environment Minister, Steven Miles. He told me he expected to introduce the repeal Bill to parliament in May. That would have been reasonably consistent with Labor’s promise to “immediately” repeal the Newman amendments. Miles later told me the expected date was June. He later changed this to “sometime this year”.
The delay has allowed Sibelco and its allies, the LNP and the AWU, more time to “lobby” the three crossbench MPs, all from North Queensland incidentally. Haven’t they got other issues of more concern to their electorates? Sibelco also has been allowed more time to offer “financial incentives”, at least on Stradbroke Island.
The Katter Party has been allowed to take the initiative away from the government by putting forward Sibelco’s so-called “compromise proposal” in the form of their own bill and parroting Sibelco’s exaggerated claims to justify their bill. If successful, this may permit Sibelco to mine out all the remaining heavy mineral resources. A letter to the n Securities Exchange by the mine’s former public company owner revealed this could be achieved by 2024.
2035 was an ambit claim. Sibelco’s PR company in 2012 revealed the real goal in a leaked report tabled in parliament by Ms Trad. It was to “Achieve public endorsement by the then Queensland Opposition Leader, Campbell Newman, for the continuation of Sibelco’s NSI operations until 2027” (page 4). It is no wonder that today Sibelco welcomed the Katter Party “compromise”.
Time will tell whether this Labor government was genuine in its commitments to the voters of Queensland prior to and following the January election – not just about North Stradbroke Island. But if Labor does not succeed in repealing the Newman amendments, many voters are likely to “smell a rat” and may not forget.
Richard Carew is a partner at Carew Lawyers.