Shane Jones expected to draw big crowd on Coast

Shane Jones. Photo: RNZ
Shane Jones is expected to draw a significant crowd in Blackball. Photo: RNZ
Controversial cabinet minister Shane Jones is expected to draw a big crowd to Blackball this week to hear him outline the government's mining strategy — but protesters are also planning to picket the meeting.

Opponents of the Barrytown minerals sands proposal are making placards, and the North Canterbury branch of Forest and Bird is organising a group to travel over specially for the public meeting.

As Minister of Resources, Mr Jones's pro-mining stance has delighted many on the West Coast, but horrified conservationists.

His comments as Minister of Oceans and Fisheries have also upset the environmental lobby.

The Blackball meeting at the community hall is at 3.30pm on Thursday, and Minerals West Coast manager Patrick Phelps, who will be MC, expects it will be standing room only.

Mr Jones was deliberate in his decision to take the meeting to Blackball, regarded as the historical home of the labour movement and is often associated with the Labour Party roots.

However, it is also a mining town.

"It's the birthplace of the Labour Party," Mr Jones said recently.

"That's where I shall be announcing the government's strategy on mining, which will contribute to the export-led growth trajectory."

Mr Phelps said the meeting would have time for questions following the minister's speech.

Feedback so far had been enthusiastic.

"The Minister for Resources is coming to the region synonymous with mining," Mr Phelps said.

"That speaks to the sincerity of the minister and his enthusiasm for the sector. It's a good gesture."

He said anyone had the right to protest, but it was equally important that others could gather and hear what the minister had to say.

He did not expect any issues with that.

People would be free to enter and exit the hall, as long as they did not shout the minister down or heckle.

Mr Phelps said some "self-labelled environmentalists" had used destructive, sabotage tactics elsewhere.

"As long as they don't sink to that, I have no issue with them coming.

"The community is supportive of mining as far as I'm aware. They can probably expect a reception from some that won't be particularly enthusiastic."

Police will be on standby at the event.

Greymouth Mayor Tania Gibson said protesters from Canterbury did not know the West Coast communities and what they wanted.

"They are coming from other areas sticking their noses into business of other communities," Mrs Gibson said.

"We want our economy to do well — we are all there to listen. We have some great opportunities.

"If they turn up with cellphones and cars they are hypocrites — they use these minerals every day."

An email from North Canterbury Forest and Bird says two huge concerns for them are opencast coalmining at Te Kuha near Westport, and new opencast coalmines on the nearby Denniston Plateau.

Both companies were on the consulted-stakeholder letter list for possible consideration under the government's fast-track process.

"We have been invited to join West Coast people who are deeply concerned about the proposals to reopen mining on the West Coast," a spokesman said.

"This is not a Forest and Bird event. If Forest and Bird members attend it is important any protest is peaceful, respectful and kept to the outside of the venue, and not brought inside to disrupt the meeting.

"As much as we may disagree with Minister Jones, in the spirit of open debate and democracy, he is entitled to hold this event. Thoughtful, probing questions put to Minister Jones during the Q and A part of the meeting are a constructive way to interact."

Registrations are not required for the Blackball meeting and there is no cost.

What Minister Jones has announced so far

December 12, 2023:Indicates the new Government will take a blowtorch to the review of stewardship land.

February 17, 2024: Reveals work has begun on a critical minerals list — something long sought by the mining sector.

February: Promises to repeal recent changes to the Crown Minerals Act, again requiring it to promote minerals.

March: Cabinet approves the fast-track bill, which would allow eligible projects to bypass the multiple consent requirements many developments currently need to have. The Te Kuha mine near Westport, Reefton gold projects, and Bathurst coal projects are all possible contenders.

April 16: Reveals changes to the Resource Management Act to align consenting for coalmining to other forms of mining. The first Resource Management Amendment Bill will contain changes to provisions in the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater and the National Policy Statements for Freshwater Management and Indigenous Biodiversity. Mr Jones says those environmental provisions apply extra controls on resource consent pathways for coalmining compared with other extractive activities, even though the localised environmental effects are similar.

April: Indicates additional controls, introduced by Labour, with a deadline of phasing out existing thermal coalmines from December 31, 2030, will be removed.