In December 2015, the Queensland Government released a draft plan to end sand quarrying by 2019 on North Stradbroke Island, located off the southeast coast of Queensland.
The island, which is said to be the second largest sand island in the world, has been the site of sand quarrying since the late 1940s. Today, the island is home to three sand quarries operated by Sibelco Australia, two of which are inactive.
According to the Queensland Government, the sand mining leases prevent public access to approximately 40 per cent of the island, 20 per cent of which is also a national park.
The Draft North Stradbroke Island Economic Transition Strategy released at the end of last year outlined how the state government planned to cease quarrying operations and develop the region into an “eco-tourism hub”, freeing up the land currently occupied by sand mining for community use.
As part of this strategy, $5 million would be invested to assist quarry workers affected by the industry’s closure to find alternative employment and training opportunities.
Legislation to enable the strategy’s implementation – the North Stradbroke Island Protection and Sustainability and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2015 – was introduced to Queensland Parliament late last year at the same time as the plan’s release and is currently part of an ongoing parliamentary inquiry.
In a submission to the inquiry, Sibelco argued that the Queensland Government’s draft strategy was “wholly inadequate” to support the island’s economic transition to a quarry-free future by 2019.
The submission claimed the premature cessation of sand mining operations would result in the loss of up to $100 million in net benefits for the state as well as the loss of more than $15 million in mining royalties and taxes for the native Quandamooka people.
“There is insufficient time between the release of the strategy and the proposed cessation of sand mining in 2019 to achieve even a partial transition of the North Stradbroke Island economy,” the submission added, noting that a more appropriate timeframe would be in the order of 20 to 40 years.
Sibelco’s submission concluded with a recommendation that the region’s sand quarrying activities end “no earlier than 2027”.
The Queensland Resources Council (QRC) expressed similar concerns about the state government’s proposed timing. The council’s submission stated that the current plan would result in the loss of up to 160 jobs that could not be adequately offset by the jobs that would supposedly be generated by the transition strategy.
QRC noted in its submission that it considered the North Stradbroke Island Protection and Sustainability (Renewal of Mining Leases) Amendment Bill 2015, which was introduced to Queensland Parliament in October 2015 as a private members’ bill, to be a “reasonable attempt at a compromise”.
“[The bill] would enable mining until the end of 2024, and would allow for rehabilitation of land in the region until the end of 2029, without the removal of the mining leases … [but] although acknowledging the private members’ bill as better than the government’s bill, we continue to commend Sibelco’s 2015 proposal for a 2027 closure as a superior option to both bills.”
The Queensland Parliament’s Finance and Administration Committee, which has been tasked with the inquiry, is scheduled to report on both bills by 31 March, with the Queensland Government to announce its final economic transition strategy later this year.