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Schedule four land safe but other areas ripe for mining

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Gerry Brownlee
Gerry Brownlee

By Maggie Tait of NZPA

Wellington, July 20 NZPA - Specially protected areas of conservation land won't be mined but it looks like open season for other parts of the country.

Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee today said 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," he said.

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

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."

Prime Minister John Key backed him saying if the Government wanted to be aggressive it could have gone with opening up 467,000 ha as was the original proposal.

Cabinet was unanimous "and anyone who says otherwise has interviewed their typewriter", Mr Key said adding he was satisfied with Mr Brownlee's handling of the issue.

Mr Key said the discussion document process was not a sham: "We're a government for the people of New Zealand, not just the people that vote National.

"Some of the things we do, our supporters absolutely love, some of the things we do our supporters are lukewarm on, and some of the thins we do appeal to people who don't vote for us."

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 is 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."

Environmental groups, the Greens and others have raised concerns about the prospect of wider mining but the industry has welcomed it.

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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