Joyce 'jumps the shark' on mining issue

03:03, Sep 26 2012

In television terms, the phrase "jumping the shark" reflects a situation where the writers have become so desperate to maintain/improve ratings, they write inane over-the-top storylines into a show in order to salvage flagging viewership.  It arises from an episode of Happy Days in the fifth season when Fonzie waterskis over a confined shark in a Seaworld-like situation. At that point commentators responded that the programme had outlived its freshness and viewers had begun to feel that the show's writers were out of new ideas.

In political terms, Steven Joyce attempted a similar stunt yesterday when he tried to deflect blame for heavy job cuts by state-owned enterprise Solid Energy, by going to the media and saying that opponents to the proposed Bathurst Resources open-cast coalmine on the Denniston Plateau should withdraw.

To deflect the blame for a mishandling by Solid Energy of their economic forecasts on to environmental groups is easy but not very clever politicking by Mr Joyce. For starters, yesterday John Key said the Government had looked into Solid Energy's accounts and found they had "unrealistic" prices built into coal prices. This led to the job cuts and changes.

Second, Joyce might be the Minister for Everything, but even he can't combat a global collapse in coal prices that has seen massive concerns in Australia and elsewhere. However, it doesn't take a crystal ball for anyone to see that China's been building enormous numbers of coal mines for years (not to mention windfarms), and that a slowdown in their economy might see them looking closer to home for coal.

Third, it is inappropriate for a minister of the Crown (even the Minister for Everything) to comment on an issue that is before the courts.


Fourth, Steven Joyce has had over a year since Forest & Bird and the West Coast Environment Network appealed the resource consent for Bathurst's proposed open-cast coal mine on the Denniston Plateau. For him to not wade into the debate until yesterday (the day after Solid Energy announced the cuts) appears to be a bit of a kneejerk reaction.

This Government has nailed its colours to the mast when it comes to its approach to environmental issues (last week's example of NZ being the only country to vote against protecting Maui dolphins from gillnetting at the IUCN is a standout example). They have also done a sneaky and deliberate thing by setting up the environment against the economy, as if we must choose one over the other.  This is not an economic plan that leads us to a prosperous future. 

To recap on the issue of the Denniston Plateau. The Denniston is one of only two places in the world that have a particular ecology, wildlife and landscape. The other place that was like that was the Stockton Plateau. When a chunk of Stockton was designated as a coal reserve, the sentiment was that the Denniston would be set aside as public conservation land to protect a representative area, as a sort of insurance against what would happen to the Stockton Plateau. It is, in fact, an example of the "balance" this government like to talk about.

Here is the Stockton Plateau:

and here is the Denniston Plateau (remember, the last remaining example of this type of ecosystem on the planet):

In September 2011, Forest & Bird appealed the decision to grant consent for the Escarpment mine on the Denniston Plateau. Commissioners at the time made the decision with "considerable reservations and anguish" because the proposed mine would be "irreversibly" damaging to the unique ecology of the Denniston Plateau.

The proposed Bathurst mine would be the largest open-cast mine on public conservation land in New Zealand. In May 2010, more than 50,000 people marched up Queen Street to protest against the Government's suggestion to mine in national parks and other significant conservation areas.

If you haven't had the benefit of visiting the Denniston Plateau - feel free to take a two-minute journey by watching the video below.