Goldmining industry wants to get back to work

Westland mayor Bruce Smith
Westland mayor Bruce Smith
The West Coast goldmining industry is agitating to be allowed back to work to help prop up the struggling economy.
The Government has not ruled it out, at a time when gold prices have been peaking at new records.

Westland Mayor Bruce Smith, who also chairs the West Coast Civil Defence Joint Committee, said alluvial goldminers spent 10 to 12 hours a day confined in the cabin of their excavator.

"They work in remote conditions; their families hardly ever see them," Mr Smith said.

"Farming, horticulture, fishing, coalmining for internal use only are all considered essential, so why let politics with the anti-mining sector get away with this inconsistency?"

Minerals West Coast wrote to the mayors after watching a raft of others get exemptions to reopen, including suppliers of dressing gowns, golf courses being mowed and greens kept, and even the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy, courtesy of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Minerals West Coast manager Patrick Phelps said mines effectively operated with each person on site working in isolation.

"Provided each operator arrives at their sites in their own vehicle, and sits alone in the cab of their respective excavator, dump truck, or dozer, and the plant is operated by one person, there is no reason these operations could not be occurring in a safe manner," Mr Phelps said.

Coalmines for domestic supply had already been ruled essential and were operating within safe rules. Export coal, like gold, had not been classified as essential, yet coal imports for the Huntly power station continued, he noted.

Goldminers could easily operate in exactly the same way as domestic coal suppliers.

Mr Phelps said gold was essential in shoring up global economies suffering devastating falls in sharemarkets and currencies.

In that sense, gold production should be seen as an essential financial service.

"The value of mining to our region's economy cannot be ignored. Tourism, long touted as a silver bullet, or at least a green one, is jammed in the chamber."

Government officials were scrambling trying to figure out how to resuscitate the tourism industry, which had burdened West Coast infrastructure and its small rating base for little economic benefit, he said.

"What about the viability of our oldest and most productive, highest paid industry, an industry that has been the backbone of New Zealand's economy generally, and the West Coast's specifically, since 1864?"

In the 2018 financial year, alluvial gold operations brought in $41 million to the Coast economy.

"Many of our miners are facing cashflow problems and some will lose their business, which is unnecessary for an industry at the lowest level of risk of community transfer for Covid-19," Mr Phelps said.

Cabinet minister and West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O'Connor said the Government was considering "every day" the economic pressure against the determination to eliminate the virus.

"There are a number of occupations throughout the economy that can probably ... open up earlier than others," Mr O'Connor said, noting that assessments were done daily.

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