24 May 2024

Government's mining proposal an attack on NZ environment - Forest and Bird

8:24 am on 24 May 2024
Shane Jones

Resources Minister Shane Jones unveiled the coalition government's draft mining strategy on Thursday. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Mining criticism is ill-conceived and the government will look at oil and gas exploration next, Resource Minister Shane Jones says.

Critics have called the government's newly released mining strategy a love letter to off-shore mining companies.

But Jones has argued it would create regional jobs, economic resilience, and meant the country was not relying on minerals extracted under poor conditions overseas.

"Sure there are a tiny group of green cultists who want to turn the entire stewardship land into sort of some tapu estate. It is already mined, it should be made available not only for additional carbon forestry purposes, but mining, and it will be."

Criticism about mining was ill-conceived, Jones told Morning Report.

"We've got a multi-source, revenue speaking, economy and mining will play a key part. Sure I've introduced the strategy, soon I'll be elaborating how we're going to reinvigorate oil and gas.

"And the fast-track legislation is going to be an opportunity to expeditiously allocate the necessary consents to expand the mining."

An attack on the environment

Forest and Bird group manager Richard Capie said the plan was a "love letter" to off-shore mining companies.

"We're living in a climate and biodiversity crisis, in a country with the highest proportion of threatened species in the world, where all types of public conservation land are valuable and home to endangered plants and animals," Capie said.

"We need to be building a low-carbon, future-focused economy based on looking after our natural environment, not sticking our head in the sand and aspiring towards a 1970s economy.

"This approach talks a big economic game. But the unintended consequences could actually hurt our other exports, like our $10 billion a year tourism industry - New Zealand's second-largest exporter - which relies heavily on leveraging New Zealand's clean green global image."

The Chatham Islands

The Chatham Islands is one of the areas highlighted in the plan as possible sites for significant new mining operations. Photo: RNZ/ Matthew Theunissen

Clear support

Grey District mayor Tania Gibson said the region was very happy about the mining plans.

The minerals were needed for a number of products and "we're still going to be looking after the environment while we do it", she told Morning Report.

"The West Coast, I've said it before, is the environmental conscious of the country. I challenge anybody to come to the here and see any signs of mining and I still would when these policies are in place.

"You'll still come here, we'll still have 84 percent DOC land and it will still be the most pristine region in the country."

Jodie Vidal, from mining industry group Straterra, has made clear the association's support for the proposal.

Vidal described it as a "relief" and hoped it would allow New Zealand to "fully contribute to the global supply chain of minerals that are critical to development and economic growth."

"We can't expect other countries to supply minerals New Zealand and the rest of the world needs, while we sit on mineral wealth but contribute nothing.

"Mining is a small but significant part of our economy and taking opportunities to grow it in a measured way doesn't mean 'mine and walk away'; it does mean a boost to an export-led economic recovery," Vidal said.

Political theatrics

Labour's climate change spokesperson Megan Woods said Jones was putting political theatrics over long-term solutions.

"The hyperbole that we hear from Minister Jones shows he has no vision for the future. What he needs to start talking about is what are the long-term solution for New Zealand workers and long-term secure, well-paid work as the world transitions away from fossil fuels?" she said.

Woods said the previous government had already implemented a minerals strategy and started work on a critical minerals list.

"There are still some opportunities for us in the present, but it's got to have that long-term view of what the future looks like, and constantly be looking over the shoulder and intent on taking New Zealand backwards."

Green Party co-leader Chlöe Swarbrick said the biggest obstacle to weaning New Zealand's energy system off fossil fuels was that current structures prioritised profit over people and planet.

"There are far better things that we could be investing in to create meaningful jobs which give back to our people and to our planet. It's a race to the bottom and I think the minister needs to understand that jobs happen on the planet, there is no future in burning our home," she said.

Swarbrick said given the strategy's reliance on the Fast-Track Approvals Bill, there would be pushback from the public, the courts, and environmental regulators.

"What we've seen from this government in all direction of travel is that when they are putting through legislation to mine-up or to extract or to explore is that they seem far more intent on bypassing democratic processes than they do on facing up to the data and evidence which they committed to in their coalition agreement."

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