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Ministers told cabinet to scrap mining plans, papers show

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Gerry Brownlee
Gerry Brownlee

Wellington, July 22 NZPA - Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee and Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson were in no doubt about the public's opposition to mining protected land, documents released today show.

They told the Cabinet two very strong messages came through when the public was consulted on proposals to open up 7058 hectares of the conservation estate that was protected from mining by schedule four of the Crown Minerals Act.

"Conservation areas, and in particular national parks, are of deep and enduring importance to New Zealanders and the vast majority of New Zealanders do not want to see mining on schedule four land," they told their colleagues.

"There is support for greater development of New Zealand's mineral resources outside schedule four land."

Cabinet agreed with their recommendations and on Monday decided to scrap plans to mine schedule four land.

Mr Brownlee announced the decision on Tuesday.

The ministers said the vast majority of submitters to the consultation paper opposed the removal of any areas from schedule four and considered the economic benefits of mining would not outweigh the damage to the environment and to New Zealand's "100 percent pure" image.

Most mining companies and related organisations supported the removal of the proposed areas from schedule four so that case-by-case decisions could be made on mineral-related access to those areas.

"People see value for New Zealand in improving the currently limited knowledge of our mineral potential, and recognise the economic value mining could have," the ministers said in their cabinet paper.

They also noted that mining operations would always be potentially contentious, and had to have broad community support.

"Without this support, it would not be in the broader interests of the community or the minerals industry to recommend any removals from the schedule," they said.

"It is possible that public concern over any removal of schedule four land -- however small -- would be damaging to the reputation of the broader mining sector."

The documents confirm that "a first look" at schedule four land identified about 450,000ha with high known mineral potential.

Cabinet rejected such a big area being taken out of the schedule, and so areas within it were pinpointed and the much smaller 7058ha was proposed.

The Government is now going ahead with surveys of Northland, the West Coast and other parts of the South Island to find valuable minerals in less contentious areas.

Prime Minister John Key had indicated the surveys are likely to lead to more mining in some of the less scenic conservation land, and that has drawn fire from the Green Party which says the Government doesn't have a mandate to mine anywhere on the conservation estate.

Asked by reporters today why he was interested in protecting the reputation of mining companies, Mr Brownlee said the answer was simple.

"A billion dollars worth of exports each year, a large number of jobs in the community, a $2 billion contribution to GDP."

He said the Crown last year received about $5 million to $6m in direct royalties but the indirect value was enormous.

"I'm quite confident mining interests in New Zealand, and New Zealand-owned mining interests, will grow considerably," he said.

"I think we've set that up very well."

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