"No new mines" policy parked ahead of election

Damien O’Connor
Damien O’Connor
West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O’Connor says the "no new mines" policy for conservation land has been parked before the general election in September.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made the surprise announcement in a speech in November 2017, shortly after the Labour-Green Coalition Government took power.

Neither the mining ban nor the closure of the Taranaki oil industry had been raised during the 2017 election campaign.

Ms Ardern had not mentioned the policy intention on her campaign visit to Greymouth a few weeks earlier, and it came as a bolt from the blue, spurring protests which culminated in a demonstration by 5000 people at the opening of the new Taramakau Bridge.

A second protest at Messenger Park in Blaketown also drew thousands.

With the next general election looming, time was up.

Mr O’Connor said yesterday it was a complex issue and there was "not time".

"There’s a hell of a lot of work to do."

He referred to the West Coast’s "unique perspective" and the large number of existing mines on conservation land.

Access to rare earth minerals, necessary for a green economy, also needed to be taken into account.

Peter Haddock, who helped organise the protests, welcomed the news.

He said the region was experiencing "uncertain times".

"I always said tourism was fickle to a world event ... and here we are."

After the no new mines announcement, the Government said it wanted to move towards a carbon-free nation.

While that means less coal, it also means more wind and solar power, which relies on batteries and good batteries in turn need minerals.

A 3MW wind turbine requires 335 tonnes of steel, 4.7 tonnes of copper, 1200 tonnes of concrete, three tonnes of aluminium, and two tonnes of rare earth elements and zinc.

Minerals West Coast manager Patrick Phelps said he was pleased, cautiously optimistic.

"Whether common sense has prevailed, or simply coalition bungling, it’s hard to be sure.

"Either way it’s good news for the industry in the short term," Mr Phelps said.

"People often say the Coast has to diversify it’s economy, and that’s all fine and good, but there’s a place for mining in a diverse economy."

Processing of milk and meat depended on coal, everyone used steel, and cafes needed milk and meat for their coffees and filled rolls, he said.

Pounamu was sourced, in part, from alluvial gold-mining operations.

"We’ve seen highs and lows in mining, highs and lows in meat and dairy, and in just the past three months we’ve had railways and highways taken out by weather, and a disease has come out of nowhere and cost us tourism earnings.

"The more diverse an economy is the better it bears highs and lows.

"Even logging crews have caught a case of coronavirus, with logs piling up on Chinese wharves and demand down, resulting in crews being off work for at least the short term."

Mining already required a permit from the Crown, an access agreement with the landowner, then resource consent.

"People are hardly sitting their with dozers or diggers idling ready to go, the status quo prevailing — for the time being any how — simply means the option remains open."