Government confirms mining backdown

Prime Minister John Key has moved to smooth Cabinet divisions on mining, saying that Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee proposed the backdown on prospecting in national parks.

Mr Key said Mr Brownlee - who fronted Government plans to allow mining on protected areas of the conservation estate and bore the brunt of public opposition - had proposed the U-turn about three weeks ago.

''The minister came to me a few weeks ago with his final set of recommendations. I supported him in the view that he took,'' he said.

In today's announcement, the Government has confirmed it no longer plans to remove any land from Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act for the purposes of mining.

It will instead focus its efforts on exploiting New Zealand's mineral wealth on areas that fall outside conservation areas. It is also extending Schedule 4 protections to areas such as national parks and marine reserves from now on.

The backdown is understood to have caused divisions in Cabinet between ministers who wanted tangible policies to boost economic growth and those wary of flying in the face of public opinion.

But Mr Key said he had not given a directive to Mr Brownlee to drop the plans, and it had been his decision.

Mr Brownlee and Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson this morning announced that plans to allow mining on 7000 hectares of Schedule Four conservation estate land - which included parts of the Coromandel, Paparoa National Park and Great Barrier Island - had been permanently shelved.

Mr Brownlee acknowledged the decision was influenced by the huge public outcry and concerns that controversy over allowing mining on a small area of the conservation estate would undermine an industry with "enormous potential''.

Mr Key said the decision showed the Government had conducted a genuine consultation process after the mining plans were announced.

"New Zealanders have spoken reasonably strongly that they actually do support the expansion of our mining and exploration activities, but they don't support them on pristine parts of the national parks, and in that regard, the Government's listened to the people.

''We've always said that we were going into this process with a genuine view of listening to New Zealanders. It wasn't a sham submission process."

National MPs who represent areas where opening Schedule 4 land to mining was proposed said there was likely to be a mixed reaction in their electorates.

Coromandel MP Sandra Goudie and West Coast MP Chris Auchinvole said there had been potential for job creation, but they supported the Cabinet decision.

Mrs Goudie said she believed views in the Coromandel were split ''50-50''.

''I'm sure there'll be mixed responses to the announcements, but I think it shows a clear way forward to just getting on with life in the Coromandel.''

Mr Auchivole said feelings in his area were also evenly divided, and while some sectors of the community were ''bound to be'' disappointed, they should be pleased by the plans for an electomagnetic survey which would lead to more areas of non-protected land being opened to mining.

"HISTORIC VICTORY"

Greenpeace Senior Climate Campaigner Simon Boxer said the decision was "a heartening example of people power in action".

"This is a historic victory for the record number of New Zealanders who stood up to protect our most treasured places and for a vision of a truly sustainable and progressive 21st century economy for New Zealand," Mr Boxer said.

But Mr Boxer said plans to increase mining on general conservation estate land, particularly for lignite, along with proposals to allow deepwater oil drilling offshore, were "19th century development" strategies and should also be scrapped.

Forest & Bird advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell said the decision effectively created a cross-party consensus against mining on protected conservation land.

''The decision is a victory for the tens of thousands of New Zealanders who marched in Auckland and other centres against the proposal and who sent almost 40,000 submissions during the consultation.''

But he said the organisation wanted a law change that meant legislation would be needed before any land in future could be removed from Schedule Four.

Green Party leader Metiria Turei has a private members bill in the ballot that would require such a change.

Today's decision is a major embarrassment to the Government, whose senior ministers were touting mining earlier this year as one way to lift New Zealand's economic performance and help bring about a "step change".

It was swamped with nearly 40,000 submissions after launching a discussion document earlier this year and there were street marches in protest at the move.

Speaking before details of the back down were announced, Labour leader Phil Goff said the Government had been forced to drop the plans because of the public outcry.

''They got it completely wrong. New Zealanders did not want to see their pristine conservation estates and their national parks dug up for mines.

''This is a humiliating back down ... I think New Zealanders as a whole will join with Labour in celebrating this victory over a madcap scheme to dig up our most precious national parks and protected conservation areas."

"GENUINE" CONSULTATION

But Mr Brownlee said the U-turn demonstrated the Government had been "genuine" about wanting to consult the public before making any decisions and said there was still huge potential in mining outside conservation areas.

"From my perspective this has been a valuable exercise. I suspect few New Zealanders knew the country had such considerable mineral potential before we undertook this process and I get a sense that New Zealanders are now much more aware of that potential and how it might contribute to economic growth."

While the vast bulk of submissions opposed mining on Schedule 4 land, he believed the consultation process had also made people aware of the potential for mining to contribute to economic growth.

"Essentially the discussion process identified where the mining industry can and can't go. As many people have pointed [out], around 85 per cent of the country is not protected by Schedule 4 and a great deal of that land has mineral potential.

"New Zealanders have given the miners' sector a clear mandate to go and explore that land and, where appropriate, within the constraints of the resource consent process, utilise its mineral resources for everyone's benefit," Mr Brownlee said.

GREEN PARTY RESPONDS

Greens co-leader Metiria Turei said the Government had failed to make the economic case for mining on conservation land and the U-turn was a victory for common sense.

"The numbers never added up. Our 100 per cent pure brand and our tourism industries are worth far more than mining in our national parks could ever be.

"You look after the things you love and you also look after the things you need. Kiwis are incredibly proud of our wilderness areas and they also understand that we rely on them economically."

However, she said the change to give the Energy Minister joint decision-making over mining on conservation land with the Conservation Minister was 'problematic'.

"Conservation land is no longer protected by the conservation ethic. It is now subject to the economic growth ethic, so they've made some policy decisions that are still of concern."

A petition organised by the Greens against the mining proposals was signed by more than 47,000 people. A further 40,000 people marched down Auckland's Queen St to oppose the plans - a rally that was downplayed by the Government at the time.

LAND SURVEY

The Government would launch a significant aeromagnetic survey - a geophysical survey - of non Schedule 4 land in Northland and on the West Coast of the South Island to learn more about which areas have the highest concentrations of valuable minerals.

The Northland survey would be done in conjunction with local government.

Ms Wilkinson said the Government would press ahead with its proposal to add 14 areas - in total 12,400 hectares of land - to Schedule 4.

But it would not proceed with its plan to set up a conservation fund with mining royalties.

Key points:

* No areas will be removed from Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act.

* The Government will continue with a proposal to add 14 areas, totalling 12,400 hectares of land, to Schedule 4.

* All areas given classifications equivalent to current Schedule 4 areas, such as national parks and marine reserves, will now automatically become part of Schedule 4.

* An aeromagnetic survey will be taken of Northland and the West Coast of the South Island to assess mineral wealth.

* Land holding Ministers (eg the Minister of Conservation in the case of in the case of public conservation land) and the Minister of Energy and Resources must now sign off on applications for access arrangements to Crown land for mineral developments.


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