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The Queensland Government has proposed the phasing out of mining on North Stradbroke Island in order to protect and restore the region’s environment and encourage ecotourism in the region.
The North Stradbroke Island Protection and Sustainability Bill 2011 (Qld) (Bill) was introduced into State Parliament on 22 March 2011 by the Minister for Environment and Resources.
The Bill provides for the:
- phasing out of all mining operations in the North Stradbroke Island region by 2025, and
- designation of 80 percent of the Island as a ‘protected area’ to be jointly managed by the Traditional Owners and the State.
The Bill is part of the State Government’s plan to declare 80% of North Stradbroke Island as national park land over the next 15 years in order to restore the Island’s environment and to establish an environmentally sustainable economy in the region based on ecotourism.
Under the Bill, the tenure of projects operated by Sibelco within the region will be limited or revised, such that mine closure will occur earlier than was permitted under existing authorities.
Closure of relevant mines under the Bill (if passed) will occur, in the case of:
- Yarraman mine by 2015
- Enterprise mine by 2019, and
- Vance Silica mine by 31 October 2025.
According to the Bill’s Explanatory Memorandum, the Yarraman mine was already scheduled to close by 2015 due to resource depletion.
The Bill guarantees the closure of the mines within the timeframes specified by:
- varying the terms of relevant mining leases (MLs) and giving the variations effect as though they were made by the Governor in Council under section 294 Mineral Resources Act 1989
- prohibiting the renewal of specified MLs
- granting the renewal of certain MLs subject to limiting conditions
- amending the environmental authority (EA) for the Enterprise mine, and
- otherwise prohibiting the grant of a North Stradbroke Island mining interest after commencement.
In the case of the Enterprise mine, the Bill imposes restrictions on the operation’s mine path and amends its EA to provide for the cessation of active mining by 31 December 2019.
This restriction on the mine path is significant given that Sibelco’s:
- ML 1105, which covers part of the area of the restricted mine path, is not due to expire until 2021, and
- other MLs held by Sibelco over areas comprising the Enterprise Mine are not due to expire until 2027.
Significantly, no compensation or other payment has been offered to Sibelco for the termination or non-renewal of the mining leases.
Joint management of protected land
The Bill declares certain specified lots of land in the region to be transferable land under the Aboriginal Land Act 1991 (ALA) so that it may be granted as freehold land to the Traditional Owners, the Quandamooka People.
The Bill provides for the establishment of Indigenous Joint Management areas under the Nature Conservation Act 1992, over those areas of the Island expected to be declared national park or protected land. The freehold grants will be made if an Indigenous management agreement is in place.
This new statutory status permits the joint management of those protected areas in perpetuity, which will in effect provide the Traditional Owners of the Island the opportunity to play a formal role in caring for the land.
Whilst the Bill provides certainty to stakeholders about how competing interests in the North Stradbroke Island region are to be managed, some of those affected have expressed concern about the proposed legislation.
It has been suggested by some within the resources industry that by intervening in the regulation of mining tenure and environmental approvals which were lawfully made, investors’ confidence in the security of mining for the life of a project may be undermined. Some believe that this uncertainty may act to deter companies from investing in the development of new projects.
North Stradbroke Island residents have also expressed concern about the effect this proposed legislation will have on the region’s mining-based economy. On the other hand, environmental groups and campaigners are concerned that the Bill provides too little protection, too late.
It is likely that the Queensland Government anticipated criticism from stakeholders on both sides of the debate and views this as a reflection that an appropriate balance has been struck between competing interests.
By legislating to solve this specific problem the Government will achieve resolution of the issue to its own satisfaction, while simultaneously leaving affected parties without avenues for review or appeal of its proposed action.
Focus covers legal and technical issues in a general way. It is not designed to express opinions on specific cases. Focus is intended for information purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice. Further advice should be obtained before taking action on any issue dealt with in this publication.