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Issue #1644      June 25, 2014

Mining writ lodged

The Quandamooka people, the traditional owners of North Stradbroke Island, have launched High Court action challenging the Newman government’s legislation that extends sand mining on their country. And, the Koori Mail understands, the Quandamooka people are calling on Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney to refer the matter to the Crime and Misconduct Commission.

The Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation (QYAC) claims in a High Court writ that the 2013 North Stradbroke Island Protection and Sustainability Amendment Act contravenes the Commonwealth Native Title Act, 1993.

Where a state law is in conflict with a Commonwealth law, the Commonwealth law prevails.

The case will have implications for all native title holders across the country.

When the Bligh government passed the North Stradbroke Island Protection and Sustainability Act in 2011, the Quandamooka people were overjoyed that sand mining would be phased out by 2019, ending nearly six decades of community division for which the traditional owners had received no compensation.

That same year Quandamooka Elders signed an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) with the Queensland government that included compensation and the transition to joint management of Naree Budjong Djara National Park.

Soon after, the Quandamooka people had their native title rights to North Stradbroke Island recognised by the Federal Court and then the ILUA registered with the National Native Title Tribunal.

However, Sibelco, the privately owned Belgian mining company that owned sand mining licences on North Stradbroke Island, began lobbying aggressively for the extension of sand mining, hiring PR company Rowland to run an expensive campaign. In the 2012 election Sibelco spent close to $100,000 in Campbell Newman’s electorate of Ashgrove.

While Premier Newman denied in an email to the Koori Mail that Sibelco had received special treatment, a hand-signed document to Mines Minister Andrew Cripps appears to contradict that statement.

In October last year Mr Cripps wrote a briefing note to Mr Newman outlining why Sibelco needed the legislation passed quickly and asking that the Premier relax the requirement to wait 20 days between preparing and introducing the Bill. Hand-written notes on the letter say “Premier approved” and “Yes!”

QYAC chief executive Cameron Costello and Quandamooka Elders have repeatedly invited Mr Newman to come to the island and walk with them on their country – but he has refused. “It was unfortunate that the Quandamooka people had to deliver the writ. We have extended the hand of friendship to the Queensland government, but we have been forced into having to defend our rights,” Mr Costello said.

“It was a powerful moment when we lodged the writ, after an Elders’ blessing and traditional ceremony, quite powerful and dignified, but it was a course of action that we did not undertake lightly. We felt we had to do it not only for the benefit of the Quandamooka people but also for all native title holders across Australia.”

Mr Costello said it was “totally unacceptable” for the Queensland government to go back on a deal with Aboriginal people. “It’s been gut-wrenching for our Elders. It’s extremely disappointing and draining,” he said.

“Instead of enjoying the fruits of the ILUA – which really is compensation for what has happened to our people – instead of setting up the foundations for a non-mining economy, all this time and energy is being used dealing with the state trying to get them to honour a deal that was already done.

“We’ve won awards for tourism, accommodation, land care, caring for country, and we’ve won an award from the Australian Institute of Planners for our land use. The Quandamooka people are forging ahead, and the State government needs to support us, not keep trying to bring us down.

“At this stage the government needs to repeal the legislation that they put in place and come over to the island, apologise to our Elders and work towards implementing our ILUA in good faith.”

Koori Mail

Next article – Cockatoo Island strike and occupation – 25 years on

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