5 Nov 2020

Seabed mining opponents outraged by Attorney-General intervention

5:24 pm on 5 November 2020

The Attorney-General has been granted leave to intervene in a Supreme Court appeal over seabed mining off the coast of Taranaki - a move that has shocked opponents of the proposal.

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Photo: RNZ/ Dom Thomas

Trans-Tasman Resources wants to mine up to 50 million tonnes of ironsand annually in the South Taranaki Bight.

It is opposed by iwi and environmental groups.

The High Court quashed consent for the work, and the Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal of that decision by Trans-Tasman Resources.

The company is now challenging that decision in the Supreme Court.

In a synopsis of submissions to Parker, the office said the Attorney-General's primary focus was on the general principles and approach adopted by the Court of Appeal rather than on the specific consent decision at issue between the parties.

A spokesperson for the Crown Law Office said the Supreme Court, in granting leave to appeal, invited the Attorney-General to intervene in order to make submissions "in relation to te Tiriti o Waitangi, Māori customary interests and the applicability of tikanga to marine and marine consent discharge applications".

The Attorney-General as the Crown's Senior Law Officer was the named Crown party when there was no relevant government department in the proceeding (as per Crown Proceedings Act, s14), the spokesperson said.

His intervention was not to take a role in the dispute between the parties. Rather the application to intervene was made expressly on the basis that the Attorney-General's submissions would be limited to the above mentioned issues of law.

The spokesperson said the Attorney-General's role was neutral as to the substance of the case and the dispute between the parties.

Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Ruanui kaiarataki and Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said it appeared Parker was agreeing to a narrower interpretation of Treaty rights and customary law.

"We are gutted that the Attorney-General is opposing the ruling of the Court of Appeal, in effect bolstering a mining company that is disregarding Treaty and environment law to push through a consent that risks environmental disaster for Aotearoa.

"This new government, if true to their stated goal of being transformational and protecting precious marine environments, should not be siding with fossil fuel interests in landmark legal cases.

Ngarewa-Packer said mining 50 million tonnes of ironsands every year would represent an act of environmental vandalism that would destroy entire ecosystems and change our coastlines forever.

"By rejecting the rulings of the Court of Appeal, who argued that Treaty rights and the purpose of the act needed to be interpreted in the widest possible way, the Attorney-General is seeking to undo a ground-breaking legal precedent that could help tangata whenua and environmental groups defend the marine environment for years to come."

Ngarewa-Packer said it was not appropriate for the Attorney-General to "effectively cherry pick pieces" of how Parliament intended to develop law to help an international mining company.

That went against the legislation designed to protect the environment that was doing what Parliament intended, she said.

"We expected more from this government. It's time to be brave and stand up for our environment and for Treaty rights, instead this intervention undermines them. The Court of Appeal made a clear and balanced ruling and we believe the Supreme Court will do the same."

The Māori Party also opposed the intervention which it said agreed with Trans-Tasman Resources' interpretation of the EEZ Act.

"It is unacceptable that government is intervening in a legal case to support an international mining company against tangata whenua," said Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi.

"The Attorney General's views on Te Tiriti rights and environmental law are outrageous. Labour talk a big game on the environment and Te Tiriti rights, but this is just another example of them failing to deliver."

Waititi said the Māori Party would ban seabed mining across Aotearoa.

"The government needs to rescind its submission to the Supreme Court and instead put in place a ban on seabed mining permits in the EEZ."

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