20 Jul 2010

Decision against mining not a backdown, says Key

9:00 pm on 20 July 2010

Prime Minister John Key denies that the Government's decision not to open up protected conservation land to mining is a backdown.

The Government simply listened to public concerns, he says.

It was never intended to open up large parts of the country's national parks to mining, Mr Key says, adding that he expects more minerals to be mined in this country.

Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee announced on Tuesday morning that no land will be removed from Schedule Four of the Crown Minerals Act - a prospect raised by the Government earlier this year.

Prospecting in parts of the Coromandel, Great Barrier Island and Paparoa National Park has thus officially been shelved.

Message heard loud and clear - Brownlee

Most of the 37,000 submissions received on the Government's mining discussion paper opposed removing any land from Schedule Four.

Mr Brownlee says that the Government has heard that message loud and clear, and that in future all national parks and marine reserves will automatically be added to Schedule Four.

The decision is not embarrassing, Mr Brownlee says: the consultation process was carried out in good faith and the Government was genuinely interested in what people had to say.

'A humiliating backdown' - Goff

After it became clear following Monday's Cabinet meeting that the Government was not going to go ahead with mining on conservation land, Labour leader Phil Goff said it was a victory for "people power".

He told Morning Report on Tuesday that it was a humiliating backdown for the Government, which had misjudged the public's stance on mining.

The Green Party also says the backdown is a victory for the people who spoke out against the proposal. Co-leader Meteria Turei says it was the only rational decision that could be made.

Mr Key is playing down suggestions of a split in Cabinet on the matter, saying the decision was unanimous; he also says he's

satisfied with Mr Brownlee's handling of the matter.

Effects of plan 'misrepresented'

The mining industry group Straterra says, however, that the environmental lobby misrepresented the effects of the plan.

Chief executive Chris Baker says the Government's intention was only to allow the sort of assessment that could lead to a mine, but opponents of the mining industry, he says, ignored that.

And the industry group Minerals West Coast says it's disappointed with the decision, because the $700-million-a-year West Coast minerals industry has the potential to double its value within 10 years.

Spokesperson Peter O'Sullivan says applicants for any exploration or mining in the former Timberlands forestry blocks would have faced a strong test under the Resource Management Act before gaining approval from the Department of Conservation.

Govt had no choice, says mayor

Thames-Coromandel mayor Philippa Barriball says that with thousands of submissions made on the plan and very few in support, the Government had no choice.

Many people in her area are passionate about the Coromandel, she says, but there are also a lot of people without jobs who saw the mining proposal as an opportunity.

The Coromandel Watchdog Group says that while it's very happy over the Government's change of mind, it's still wary of mining activity on other land; and Forest and Bird says it's worried that areas on the West Coast and in the mountains behind Nelson could still be mined.

Mr Brownlee says that there is still huge potential for mining, and that the industry now has a clear mandate to grow in areas outside Schedule Four. The minister says will be further investigation of prospects on other areas of land, including parts of Northland and the West Coast.