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Govt quick to shift its mining focus

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Gerry Brownlee
Gerry Brownlee

By Chris Ormond of NZPA

Wellington, July 21 NZPA - The Government is moving on from its backdown over mineral prospecting on protected conservation land and remains bullish about encouraging mining elsewhere in the face of concern from environmentalists.

Labour MPs continued to hound National in Parliament today over its scrapping yesterday of proposals to take up to 7000 hectares in the Coromandel, Great Barrier Island and Paparoa National Park out of protected status.

The decision followed protests and submissions from tens of thousands of New Zealanders against the proposals.

Environmentalists have been celebrating the decision but remain cautious about plans by the Government to fund aero-magnetic surveys in Northland, the West Coast and other parts of the South Island.

The Government is investing $4.5 million in those surveys and Mr Brownlee and Prime Minister John Key gave a strong indication today that it was likely to lead to more mining on some of the less scenic conservation land.

Mr Brownlee said the areas targeted were considered to be "potentially prospective" and the aerial survey would give a better picture of what minerals were where.

"We would expect there will be some information gathered that leads to a mining operation, how big that is, it's far too early to speculate," he said.

Mr Key said mining companies were realistic enough to realise that schedule four land was only ever going to be a small part of the Government's plan to realise New Zealand's mineral potential.

"I still believe that the really big opportunities lie in other parts of the country and in other areas for potentially iron-sands and certainly oil and gas, but also minerals on conservation land that is less pristine and other parts of New Zealand -- and let's remember that's 85 percent of New Zealand."

He said he expected to see more permits on conservation land in the future. "It has to be done responsibly and with a care for the environment -- we have to be cautious about that -- but there were 82 issued under the previous government and now I'd expect you'll see a decent number under us."

Labour leader Phil Goff admitted many permits were granted on conservation land during his party's time in power, but only with stringent environmental protections in place.

"I doubt we would go as far as what National intends to be going now, which seems to be a gung-ho approach on conservation land outside of schedule four."

Mr Goff said it was unclear exactly what National had in mind for future mining but suggested New Zealanders should be wary.

"They are trying to cover the fact that they've backed right off protected land in national parks by saying they will do more on conservation land -- but they haven't spelled it out."

Local authorities in Northland and the West Coast are keen on the economic potential which could follow on from mineral surveys in their regions, while conservation organisations such as Greenpeace and Forest and Bird have raised concerns about what the Government has in mind over future prospecting and mining on the conservation estate.

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