Wellington, March 23 NZPA - Prime Minister John Key says he is comfortable with backbench MP Nikki Kaye speaking out against proposals to mine conservation land in her electorate.
The Auckland Central MP has opposed her own party's plan to remove schedule four protected status from part of Great Barrier Island, which is in her Auckland Central electorate, and open it to mining.
The Government yesterday said it wanted to open up 7058 hectares of the conservation estate to mining including the island and parts of Coromandel and of Paparoa National Park on the West Coast.
"My personal view is that when environmental and economic factors are taken into account and given the island's status in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, mining on Great Barrier Island doesn't stack up," Ms Kaye said.
"I'll be strongly advocating that position to my colleagues in the Government."
Ms Kaye said she would talk to her constituents and consider the various arguments, but she thought it was a bad idea.
Asked about her chances of re-election, Ms Kaye said: "If you work hard for your constituents, you stand up for what you believe in and you also ensure that their views are represented, then in my view you get people's support."
Labour leader Phil Goff said Ms Kaye's opposition showed the National Party strategy was a shambles.
Mr Key told reporters he was forewarned about her remarks and he was unconcerned.
"We don't try and mute our MPs,"Mr Key said.
"Their voice is as strong as anyone else's voice. The question is whether the merits of that argument stack up."
Ms Kaye's concerns were discussed earlier in the week and late last week and she talked directly with Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee on Sunday and with Mr Key yesterday.
Mr Brownlee said Ms Kaye's position was "quite reasonable".
"You've got to respect the fact people are elected in electorates and they have to represent the views of their electorate and this is a public consultation document, MPs are part of the general discussion on that."
He denied there was any deal done with Ms Kaye where the Government would back down on the proposal so she could be seen as achieving a win for her electorate.
"There's no pre-arranged deals, I can assure you of that."
There was no legislation needed to allow the mining so Ms Kaye will not have to choose whether to vote against her party.
Auckland Mayor John Banks also spoke out against plans to include the island in the mining proposal, saying he was shocked and that mining on Great Barrier would be stupid.
Mr Key laughed that off, saying he wasn't stupid the last time he looked, while Mr Brownlee said: "John Banks thinks I am stupid? Ask a serious question."
Mr Key yesterday said under the proposal only about 550ha of land currently with schedule four status was likely to be involved in mining activity and the economic benefits could be huge.
The total value of New Zealand's mineral wealth has been put at $194 billion, with about 40 percent of it in schedule four land.
As a trade-off the Government said it planned to add 12,400ha to the protected category, though environmentalists consider that a hollow gesture, saying it had already been on the cards since a review in 2008.
Mr Brownlee said the Government's position was very considered.
"I've been very open about the fact if we were going to go holus bolus into this, then you'd just write off about half a million hectares out of schedule four estate. We're not prepared to do that. We know there is a balance and I think we've done a good job of meeting that balance."
Mr Key said the public would have a chance to consider the pros and cons and the economic benefits that could be made. He said the party had not campaigned on the issue because it did not have enough information at that time.
"Everyone knows we are a government that was elected on lifting New Zealand's economic performance. That has to be paid for in lots of different potential ways."