Mining national parks: Two sides to every story

The Government is eyeing hidden mineral reserves in some national parks and wilderness areas. The proposal has ruffled a few feathers, but there are two sides to every story...

• NZ has duty to protect conservation heritage

Advantages of mining cannot be ignored

- The case for: Chris Baker - acting CEO Straterra

The consultation period for the Government's proposed changes regarding schedule four land ends on May 26 and opponents are becoming increasingly vociferous.

The question is how, amid the frequently inaccurate claims of protesters, will we hear the views of those who want to see practical and reasonable measures taken to lift the standard of living for all New Zealanders?

Mining isn't a choice. With current technology we must mine to live the way we do. In addition, New Zealand's resource endowment offers the opportunity for mining to help meet the cost of today's lifestyle expectations and essential and pressing needs such as high quality health care and modern hospitals.

However, we can choose where, and under what conditions mining will occur. This is how this debate should be framed and there is ample evidence that many New Zealanders support the possibility of further exploration of the vast mineral resources that lie beneath our land, including within the conservation estate (our national parks).

Despite predictions of a massive backlash against the Government over schedule four, the TVNZ/Colmar Brunton political opinion poll for April showed National retaining its 54% of public support and 20% lead over Labour.

The Green Party, which has enjoyed huge publicity over its protests on the issue, remained at just 4.7% - unchanged from February when its support dropped from 7%.

A text poll conducted by the Close Up TV programme, which asked the question: "Do you think we should mine our national parks?" resulted in a remarkably high number of votes and an almost 50-50 split.

The support may have been even stronger if the question had been more specific - such as: "Do you support further assessment of mineral potential in our national parks, knowing that such assessment could lead to a mining proposal that would be subject to Doc access conditions and the full scope of the RMA?"

It was a brave move by the Government to face up to an issue which was always going to provoke a knee-jerk reaction. But it was also a very necessary one.

New Zealand's productivity performance has declined significantly in recent years and so have our living standards, particularly compared to Australia.

To quote a recent report by McDouall Stuart, the NZX sharebroker and investment firm, lifting living standards means lifting factor productivity - the challenge of improving living standards requires a nation to achieve stronger performance outcomes from the inputs it has available to it.

In New Zealand, two of our major inputs are land and labour. Mining, be it for precious metals, base metals or coal, is an extremely effective use of both.

A gold mine produces average gross returns more than 300 times those of sheep and beef farming and more than 50 times those of dairying.

McDouall Stuart uses OceanaGold's Macraes operation in East Otago as an example. This is a mature site, comprising eight open pits with an underground extension but the area affected by mining has been just 850 hectares - around half the size of an average sheep and beef farm. Much of this mined-out land has since been rehabilitated as forest or productive farmland.

Protesters have made much of the fact the mining industry paid royalties of just $6.5 million last year, to support their argument that new mines would bring little benefit.

However, this isolated statistic, presented alongside a deluge of inaccurate statements, ignores the many additional benefits of mining to communities and to the country. This includes high employment and substantial wages for some of New Zealand's most remote communities.

A recent study by Infometrics concluded that the economic contribution estimates place OceanaGold's contribution to the economic performance of New Zealand in the top 0.5% of individual firms.

During the 2000-05 period, the mining sector returned an average of $360,000 of GDP per employee and the average salary in the sector was $60,000, more than double the national average.

The proposal to open up conservation land has little to do with expanding mining royalties. It is about high-value jobs, export receipts and tax income. The royalties are just the cherry on the top. This is the reality.

It is about building a strong economy, without compromising environmental standards but with decisions based on a much better understanding of respective values than we have now.

• Straterra is a political lobby group for the mining industry.


NZ has duty to protect conservation heritage
- The case against: Quentin Duthie - Forest & Bird advocate

Imagine this. You have a lovely place in a leafy suburb. You've spent years restoring the historic and beautiful house, and your neighbours are quite envious. It earns you money because you run garden tours and serve coffee to the guests. You've had rave reviews.

One day the authorities turn up and say they'd like to dig on your property to get at something underneath. What they're looking for is in other places on your property under the lawn and in the weeds down the back but they want to dig under your lounge. You're a bit miffed about them making an unnecessary mess digging up your house.

That's how Forest & Bird feels. For a century, New Zealanders have worked to protect our public conservation estate and its unique plants and animals. We were getting somewhere.

Thirteen years ago, we agreed with the mining industry and a National government that some places could be mined, but that others could not. This gave both industry and the public confidence to invest our efforts in the right places.

The Government now proposes to shatter that agreement. Despite already privileged access to conservation lands for mining, the Government is proposing to take some of the best bits - the places listed in schedule four, which includes our national parks and other highest-value areas - and dig them up. It will also make it easier to get mining permits.

Mining may create fleeting, one-off economic return, but it puts at risk the long-term, renewable economic and environmental benefits that flow from our conserved lands to all New Zealanders. Mining also results in significant environmental impacts.

One modern miner is being prosecuted for pollution in the Environment Court now, and the cost of cleaning up the abandoned Tui mine in the Waikato is estimated to cost the public $17.4 million.

Forest & Bird believes that some places are simply too precious to mine. They are our heritage and we have a duty to hand them on to our children and grandchildren in better condition, not worse.

Gerry Brownlee issued the challenge for a rational debate. However, after months of drafting and redrafting behind closed doors, his eventual proposals were far from rational. Wildly optimistic figures are used for mineral potential, and no evidence of the costs and benefit to New Zealand is presented.

While overseas commentators are questioning how mining national parks fits with our clean, green marketing, the Government admits it hasn't considered the cost to the country.

So let's get rational. Let's look at the proposal to remove sections of Paparoa National Park, a major tourism focus for the West Coast.

The Government has ruled out open-cast mining, so that rules out gold mining like the nearby OceanaGold mine in the Victoria Conservation Park. That leaves coal.

Coal is found all over New Zealand, so what rational reason does the Government give for digging up a national park for it?


Mining coal in Paparoa National Park provides no additional economic benefit, but incurs an extraordinary cost to New Zealand. It also undermines the integrity of our national parks.

Next on the list are rare earth elements in Rakiura National Park on Stewart Island. Rakiura is the heart of the local economy. Will we see the return of the original proposal to gnaw away at Mt Aspiring National Park - the heart of inland Otago's economy?

Our highest-value conservation areas make a massive contribution to our economy. They should not be raided for short-term profit. Some places are too precious to mine.

• Quentin Duthie is a conservation advocate for the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand.




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