Wellington, March 25 NZPA - Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee accused the Labour Party of hypocrisy today when he revealed the previous government approved 218 permits for mining on conservation land.
He also said Labour approved a permit in 2006 for mining gold and gemstones on 168 hectares of land inside Paparoa National Park.
Opposition MPs have been attacking the Government since Monday, when it announced proposals to remove 7058 hectares from schedule four of the Crown Minerals Act which protects it from mining.
Labour says it never approved mining on high quality schedule four land, and conservation spokesman David Parker reiterated that today.
"I'll say it again for the hard of hearing Mr Brownlee -- the Labour government never mined protected schedule four land and opposes National's stupid decision to mine our most beautiful areas," he said.
"Labour will not budge on its position."
Mr Parker said National was resorting to "preposterous and laughable" defences of its mining proposals.
But Mr Brownlee said Labour had launched a campaign yesterday saying it was explicitly opposed to mining conservation areas -- not just schedule four land.
"Labour's credibility on this is now shredded," he said.
"The information shows Labour were happy for mining to take place on 21,961ha of land, meanwhile the Government is seeking approval to release a mere 7058ha of schedule four land, of which as little as 500ha might be mined."
Mr Brownlee has previously said 82 mines are already operating on conservation land, many of them approved by the previous government.
The Government's proposals include allowing mining on Great Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf, which has become the most contentious part of the plan which is open for public discussion during the next six weeks.
There is scepticism in Parliament that the Government actually intends going ahead with opening the island to mining, and Mr Brownlee would not say today what was going to happen.
"I'm not pre-empting any public discussion on that," he told reporters.
Asked whether the Government put Great Barrier Island into the proposals so it could drop it later and mine other areas, Mr Brownlee replied: "Out of the entire area we could have put up, we put up 7058ha. There's nothing in there that we don't think has a strong productive capacity."
Mr Brownlee said the Government would carefully consider public attitudes to mining in the areas it has put into its proposals.
There is strong opposition to mining on Great Barrier Island from Auckland Mayor John Banks and National's Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye, as well as from environment and conservation groups.
The row over mining conservation land continued in Parliament today and Labour's conservation spokesman David Parker attempted to table a blank sheet of paper which he said listed the schedule four land the previous government allowed to be mined.
After an absurd interchange with government MPs, Speaker Lockwood Smith told them "this nonsense is going to stop".
Mr Brownlee produced several photos of Labour MPs and former government ministers standing in front of mines and about to go down them.