CH 15

North Stradbroke Island

My dad taught me from my youngest childhood memories through these connections with Aboriginal and tribal people that you must always protect people’s sacred status, regardless of the past.                                            – Steve Irwin

I have always had a passion for addressing the high levels of disadvantage suffered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. One of my frustrations with the ALP was their repeated failure to fund programs around education, housing and employment in the Cairns West area, including one run by a local citizen of the year Todd Hartley.

In the Queensland Parliament many issues come forward that directly impact on our first peoples. A Bill designed to stop sand mining on North Stradbroke Island and hand the land back to the Traditional Owners came to the House in 2016.

North Stradbroke Island
North Stradbroke Island

The Katter Party had decided to vote against the Bill, as had the LNP. This meant the votes of Billy Gordon and myself would determine the outcome. In support of the Bill I made the following comments:

DATE: 25/05/2016
MEMBER: Mr PYNE
Mr PYNE (Cairns—Ind) (11.23 pm): I rise to speak in favour of the North Stradbroke Island Protection and Sustainability and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2016. Sandmining was always going to end on North Stradbroke Island. It could not go on forever. This bill has a plan to transition from mining jobs to long-term sustainable jobs. With a $28 million investment and a focus on supporting new projects, this proposal will create jobs that can last well past the end of mining. I support a strong plan to stimulate the economic transition of Straddie. This plan will create 151 direct and ongoing jobs across tourism, education and training and business development sectors. I support the $5 million workers assistance scheme, developed after consultation with the AWU, which will support affected workers transitioning to alternative and diverse employment opportunities through real on-the ground assistance. This will help mine workers with new employment opportunities.

In terms of consultation, I note that this bill and the ETS have been the subject of extensive consultation dating back to 2011. Ministers and departments conducted dozens of consultation meetings in the lead-up to the bill’s introduction and the release of the draft ETS in December 2015, including with QYAC, Sibelco, unions, businesses and residents. Consultation on the ETS resulted in 191 completed online surveys, 110 stakeholders providing comments during 22 listening posts or informal discussions on the island and 30 groups provided additional written commissions. During the committee process there were a total of 301 submissions, 1,600 form submissions and 114 witnesses appearing at 12 public hearings, departmental briefings and private hearings over five months of consideration.

In relation to sustainability, Straddie is the only place in Queensland where mining leases sit on top of national park. It is the only place where park rangers and joint managing traditional owners cannot
access national park. This must change. Although mining only directly affects part of the island at one time, leases can cover 40 per cent. This patchwork nature also means that much of the southern part of the island cannot be accessed by land. While many on both sides of this House refuse to transition away from a ‘dig it up at all costs’ mentality, we need to stop sand-mining on North Stradbroke Island and protect our special natural places for future generations. I know that my good friend the member for Hinchinbrook and other champions of the coalmining industry in this place simply choose to ignore the—

Andrew Cripps, a fan of mining, but not a fan of Rob.

Mr Cripps: Madam Deputy Speaker, I cannot tolerate being defamed like that and I ask the member to withdraw.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms Farmer): Order! Thank you for introducing some levity into the debate at this time of night.

Mr PYNE: I withdraw any imputation that I am a friend of the member for Hinchinbrook. We must transition to green jobs: jobs of the future. Just as Adani is symbolic of this government getting it wrong,

North Stradbroke Island is an example of this government getting it right. We are living in a time of unprecedented environmental crisis and catastrophic climate change. I say to all members that there
are no jobs on a dead planet. Capitalism is unquestioned and treated as holy doctrine in this place. It is a doctrine based on infinite expansion through the exploitation of labour and the ransacking of nature.

There is another way guided by the knowledge and experience of Indigenous people whose economies are embedded in a classless society and in fundamental unity with nature. In relation to the traditional owners, let me say that the Quandamooka people are a proud people. They never ceded sovereignty of their land and they never signed a treaty with the colonial government. It was, is, and will always be Aboriginal land: people in this place must understand this.

Quandamooka dance

When the Campbell Newman LNP government reneged on the existing undertaking with traditional owners, for the Quandamooka people it was—and I quote one traditional owner—’Just like terra nullius all over again.’ For me, tonight is about righting an historical wrong, and I for one embrace this opportunity. The wonderful thing about this bill is that it recognises the Quandamooka people’s connection with the island and it is giving native title justice to this region’s first people. That has been my overriding consideration in supporting this bill. I commend the bill to the House.

With the other independent, Member for Cook, Billy Gordon and myself voting with for the Bill, it was passed. This would mean an end sand mining and see land rights returned to the traditional owners.

Billy Gordon
Billy Gordon, Member for Cook.

Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation CEO Cameron Costello thanked Billy and myself and said he looked forward seeing the island, known as Minjerribah in the local language, turned into a global eco-tourism destination. For Billy and myself the thanks and approval of Quandamooka elder Bob Anderson was particularly touching and to have played a key role to deliver for the Quandamooka is something we will never forget.

Cameron Costello (spokesperson for Quandamooka people) with Rob.

Other Reference Material and Pictures

Quandamooka Elders

Rob Pyne: A Far Northern Life

A Far Northern Life