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Mining protected land not worth the bad PR

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Gerry Brownlee
Gerry Brownlee

By Maggie Tait of NZPA

Wellington, July 20 NZPA - Mining on specially protected conservation areas was not worth the negative impact on the industry, the Government said today while backing down from its proposals to do just that.

Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee told reporters that the negative reaction to proposals to open up 7000 hectares of conservation land in the Coromandel, Great Barrier Island and Paparoa National Park to prospecting for valuable minerals meant they were not worth it.

Tens of thousands of people marched, protested, signed petitions and made submissions against the move to remove those areas from special protection under schedule four of the Crown Minerals Act.

Labour leader Phil Goff said National's U-turn was a forced and humiliating back-down while the Green Party said it showed the value of people power.

Mr Brownlee said the discussion document process did not have a pre-determined outcome.

"Do you want to end up having an industry that has enormous potential... constantly battling with the public over a perception issue that is created over 7000 ha? In the end that, in my opinion, wasn't where we wanted to be," Mr Brownlee said.

He denied it was a backdown and said a debate needed to be held, given 40 percent of the known mineral wealth owned by the Crown was in schedule four areas.

"For us to ignore that without consulting the public would have been, I think, inappropriate. I don't see it as a backdown, I see it as a proper response to a genuine process."

He had originally been very positive about the proposal, talking up its potential to benefit the economy and role in closing the gap with Australia.

"There were opportunities, I think, for sensitive mineral extraction in those areas but New Zealanders pretty much told us leave it alone, so that's our decision and we will look to areas where they are more comfortable."

He said mining was one of several options to help the economy and the submission process had highlighted its value.

The minister recommended to Cabinet not to pursue the schedule four land and Prime Minister John Key confirmed that Mr Brownlee brought him final recommendations a few weeks ago.

Mr Key said the Government had listened to the public.

"It wasn't a sham submission process. I think what came through that process was a number of quite important ideas and perspectives."

Mr Brownlee argued that the submission process had been valuable because it made New Zealanders aware of the mineral potential and gave miners a "mandate" to pursue that.

The Government will undertake an aeromagnetic survey in Northland and the South Island West Coast's non-schedule four land to learn which areas have high concentrations of valuable minerals.

About 85 percent of the country was not protected by schedule four.

"More can be done with that... New Zealand has given a clear mandate for the industry to grow areas outside of schedule four... We have no intention of mining national parks. New Zealanders need not be concerned about that."

Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson said 14 areas totalling 12,400 hectares of land would be added to schedule four and in future land given classifications similar to schedule four, such as national parks and marine reserves, would automatically be covered.

"We wanted to allay fears of some submitters that the Government may consider allowing mining in national parks in the future by taking this possibility off the table," she said.

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