Some sand-mining should stay on super Straddie

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Tim Badrick says that sandmining and tourism can co-exist on South-East Queensland’s picturesque North Stradbroke Island.

For many years, I have regularly gone to North Stradbroke Island, which is situated just east of Brisbane, across Moreton Bay, for my holidays.

For all you interstate readers who are not familiar with the island, or Queensland in general, North Stradbroke is a sand island just like the other three islands of the south coast of Queensland: sister island South Stradbroke; Moreton Island; and, of course, the monster of them all, the world heritage listed Fraser Island, near Hervey Bay. It’s a beautiful island in every essence, with arguably the best beaches in the world, good fishing (if you have a boat) and lots of natural vegetation of significant ecological value.

For many years, the North Stradbroke Island economy has been reliant on two main sources of income — tourism and sand mining.

Tourism has grown and grown over the years – despite a shrinking recreational fishing market – due mainly to overfishing by professional operators, and the economic future of the island sense appears to be rock solid. Most of its appeal is to urban dwellers who want a quick holiday to a place unconnected to the mainland, which has a unique niche atmosphere that they cannot experience holidaying amongst the rat-race of the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast or elsewhere on the mainland.

Consolidated Rutile, the company responsible for mining silica on North Stradbroke Island, is the other big money winner for the island and it keeps many residents who live there employed. There has been a lot of controversy in political circles lately after the state Labor government announced that from 2018 most of the island will be locked up and protected in National Park and, consequent to that, North Stradbroke would be off limits to any sand mining. The state opposition is barracking in favour of Consolidated Rutile and is totally opposed to any limits being placed on where sand mining is allowed to take place.

Former state Environment Minister Kate Jones, who resigned her ministry as a result of LNP Leader Campbell Newman’s candidacy in her Ashgrove electorate for the next state election, did endeavour to find an objectively happy medium between conservation and the immediate future of sand mining on North Stradbroke Island but, being your typical leftist in the Labor Party, she was obviously biased in favour of the former. The unelected LNP leader, Campbell Newman, also indicated that an LNP government would at least force Consolidated Rutile to abide by relevant local law ordinances and cease any mining or exploration in a number of areas of greater than average ecological value and certain areas where it presently appears Consolidated Rutile may be mining outside designated areas (the accusation environmentalists and Kate Jones had previously levelled at Consolidated Rutile is the company is illegally mining silica in areas falling outside its leasehold). Only the minister for Mines and Energy and Consolidated Rutile itself is, in all probability, in a position to know that for sure.

The fact is, both Labor and the LNP have not got the right balance on North Stradbroke Island. Labor has lurched too far to the left and the LNP has lurched too far to the right. One party wants to lock up the island after 2018, where an acceptable and controlled amount of sand mining will be outlawed indefinitely. Meanwhile, the pro-big business, mine at all costs, LNP doesn’t want any controls put on sand mining which – despite the shallow assurances by Consolidated Rutile that all areas are being re-vegetated and re-contoured to their previous natural state after mining ceases – in certain areas is most certainly damaging the topography and ecosystems of the Island. Most, maybe 80 per cent of the time, Consolidated Rutile is correct, but for the other 20 per cent of the time the truth is mining should never have been allowed to take place where it did.

I support a significant increase in the amount of National Park for North Stradbroke Island, which is presently only a smidgen of land surrounding the iconic Blue Lake in the centre of the island. I really believe that at least half the island deserves to be locked away and protected for all time. But having said that, I think the Labor government has gone into overkill by killing off all sand mining there in seven years’ time. Conservation with a dash of Consolidated Rutile can co-exist on North Stradbroke Island, thus ensuring the future of the island for both a growing eco-tourism trade and the existing sand mining industry.

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