The Bimblebox Nature Refuge, a well-beloved Queensland gem, is facing its toughest challenge to date. It was purchased by private individuals in 2008, when Queensland’s land clearing rates were amongst the highest in the world, in order to save it from a grim fate. Now, after 12 years of peace, it is again threatened – this time by mining mogul and billionaire Clive Palmer.
Palmer, currently accused of trading while insolvent and of other corporate misgovernance allegations by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, has an abysmal track-record in Queensland’s Galilee Basin;
Besides this new initiative, Palmer is also currently seeking approval on a monstrous coal mine 3 times bigger than Adani’s, called Alpha North. If Palmer is successful in his bid, he would construct the mine on a conservation area for the endangered black finch. And let’s not forget Palmer’s now-bankrupt nickel refinery, Queensland Nickel, which caused several major spills and leakages that harmed the Great Barrier Reef and surrounding territories, the latest one in 2018 (3 years after it shut down).
Queensland Nickel’s negligence is not just environmental; maintenance issues and safety incidents and accidents kept piling up long before it was closed, say ex-employees. Documents attained by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland mention dozens of unattended breaches.
Now, Palmer’s company Waratah Coal wants to build another mega-coal mine on the lands which today are home to the Bimblebox Nature Refuge. Its current owners claim that even though they own the land, they are still vulnerable, as “protected areas that make up the National Reserve System are not automatically protected from mineral exploration and mining, which in Australia are granted rights over almost all other land uses”.
Unluckily for the Bimblebox, it is the first protected area to face the threat of mining to the degree proposed by Waratah Coal’s proposed mine. President Paola Cassoni says the important of this case goes beyond their small protected area, and will “serve as a test case as to whether the Queensland State and Australian Federal governments are willing to alter outdated legislation so that conservation values are considered to be at least of similar importance to the state as large mining projects”.
The QLD Environment Department itself had advised in 2011 that proposed clearing on Bimblebox Nature Refuge for Clive Palmer’s Waratah Coal mine would kill about 35,880 birds, 13,570 mammals and 780,000 reptiles. “We will fight to save this invaluable island of remnant woodland,” Cassoni said in a statement. “We cannot stand by and allow the trashing of nature for coal.”
Queenslanders have shown their support for the Nature Refuge on social media since the announcement. Many protested the proposed mine, calling leaders such as Premier and Minister for Trade, Annastacia Palaszczuk, Minister for State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning Cameron Dick and Minister for Natural Resources, Mines and Energy, Anthony Lynham for immediate action.
Greenpeace Australia, GetUp!, March Australia, Green MPS and many other groups, including local organizations Stop Adani and Galilee Blockade, have called on state officials to deny Palmer’s application and save the Bimblebox Nature Refuge, supported by citizens.
David Morris, CEO of The Environmental Defenders Office, is acting for the Bimblebox owners. He told The Guardian that the project would destroy about half the nature refuge. “The project consists of two open-cut pits and four underground mines that will totally destroy roughly 50% of the nature refuge and cut underneath the remainder, leaving it in ruins,” Morris said.“It will have a huge impact on local graziers and destroy a private conservation reserve that is one of the largest tracts of intact woodland in Queensland and home to hundreds of species, many of which are rare or endangered.”
Local farmers have concerns as well; the use of 768 billion litres, or 768 gigalitres, of groundwater over its 30-year lifespan of the proposed mine, equating to one-and-a-half times the volume of Sydney Harbour. “When you’ve lost your groundwater, you’ve lost it. It doesn’t matter how many make-good agreements you sign, you’ve lost it,” added Paola Cassoni.
Many are wondering how the state of Queensland could allow Palmer to run another mine in the region, especially considering that the Townsville City Council is taking legal action against Clive Palmer’s companies QNI Metals Pty Ltd and QNI Resources Pty Ltd as we speak, seeking more than $2.5 million from the billionaire. Palmer has apparently not paid rates and charges relating to land where Queensland Nickel’s Yabulu refinery sits and to another property since 2016.
“Not only is this frustrating, it is also unfair for the thousands of other land owners across Townsville who paid their rates and water charges as required, including those who paid despite their property suffering damage in the devastating monsoon event earlier this year,” a council spokesman has said.
Other Palmer debts, such as to the Port of Townsville, Aurizon, Queensland Rail and the state (for over $60 million paid to the workers of QNI from taxpayer money), also remain unpaid.
A court hearing in the matter of the Bimblebox Nature Refuge has yet to be scheduled. Concerned citizens can still object via phone, email or official form, lodging complaints with the Department of Natural Resources and Mines (DNRM) and the Environmental Authority.