9 Apr 2024

Minister questions mining company's fast-track 'invite' claim

1:57 pm on 9 April 2024
National MP Chris Bishop

Infrastructure Minister Chris Bishop. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The infrastructure minister has accused a seabed mining company of "being misleading" by calling a generic letter sent to 200 other organisations a "formal invite" to apply for fast-track approval.

The Australian mining company Trans-Tasman Resources (TTR) released a statement on 8 April, saying it had been invited to apply for the fast-track consenting process under the government's new Fast Track Approvals Bill, which is currently before the Select Committee.

As well as providing an avenue for projects to be considered and approved, the legislation will also contain a list of projects to be included in the bill itself.

TTR recently pulled out of consent hearings, tipping off opponents of the project that the company was likely to be eyeing the fast-track process as an alternative.

Then on Monday, the mining company released a statement confirming it was preparing an application.

"On 5 April 2024 the New Zealand government formally invited Manuka's wholly owned subsidiary, Trans-Tasman Resources Limited (TTR), to prepare an application for the Taranaki VTM Project to be included as a listed project in New Zealand's Fast Track Approvals Bill."

It said the invitation was a "positive step toward Manuka achieving the final approvals required to develop and operate the world-class Taranaki VTM Project, a 3.2 billion tonne vanadium titanomagnetite iron sand resource located offshore in the South Taranaki Bight".

"TTR is currently preparing an application for the Taranaki VTM Project to be included in the bill."

But Chris Bishop, one of three ministers who would have oversight of approvals should the bill become law, said calling it an invitation was "misleading". In fact, he had sent more than 200 such letters.

"What actually happened is I sent letters to more than 200 organisations who'd contacted my office after we first announced the Fast Track Bill, just letting them know the process if they wanted to apply. Trans-Tasman received one of those generic letters," he said in a statement.

"The letter I sent directs people to Ministry for the Environment's website for the application form. It's the same process every project, including government projects, has to go through to be considered by the independent expert panel who'll then advise ministers on the projects to include."

Greenpeace spokesperson Juressa Lee said the "over-egging" of the letter's significance "likely shows that [TTR are] under a lot of pressure from their stakeholders after failing for so long to get their seabed mining project over the line".

However, it was "shocking" that the minister saw fit to invite the company to apply and it "shows how perverse the fast-track process is in potentially enabling a project already rejected by the Supreme Court, slated by marine experts and opposed by mana whenua to be given the green light to pollute and destroy the precious oceans off the coast of Aotearoa".

TTR chairperson Alan Eggers said he got an email with a letter addressed to him from Bishop inviting the company to apply to be included on the fast-track list.

He said the company then has a duty to report it on the ASX, the Australian securities exchange.

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