Thursday, August 27, 2009

Digging up our natural heritage

Since coming into office, National has pursued an anti-environmental agenda, "suspending' the ETS and moving to gut the RMA. Now it is moving on to the next step: opening up our national parks for mining. In a speech to the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee announced plans to review Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act 1991, on the basis that

Some of the areas within Schedule 4 are known to host significant potential for zinc, lead, copper, nickel, tin, tungsten and other metals.

The current inclusion of these highly prospective areas in Schedule 4 has potentially denied significant opportunity for economic benefit at both a national and regional level. I have directed Crown Minerals to undertake a strategic review to determine areas possessing significant mineral potential that, with the removal of the access prohibition provided by Schedule 4, could through responsible mining techniques contribute considerably to our prosperity.

So, what exactly is protected by Schedule 4? Starting from the top we have:
  • National parks managed under the National Parks Act 1980;
  • Nature and scientific reserves managed under the Reserves Act 1977;
  • Wilderness areas managed under the Reserves Act 1977 or the Conservation Act 1987;
  • Wildlife sanctuaries managed under the Conservation Act 1987;
  • Wildlife sanctuaries managed under the Wildlife Act 1953;
  • Wetlands protected under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance;
  • Specified ecological areas (predating the framework of the Reserves Act 1977)
  • Any islands around the Coromandel Peninsula and Hauraki Gulf held or managed by DoC, excluding the Mercury Islands;
  • Any Conservation land in the northern part of the Coromandel Peninsula;
  • Marine reserves;
  • Specified examples of the above (which seem redundant).
Lands listed in the schedule are subject to very tight restrictions on mining activity which basically prevent any mining at all. And rightly so. These are all areas of high conservation value, deserving of the highest level of protection. But Brownlee wants to dig them up to enrich the (mostly foreign) owners of a few large crony corporations.

This is our natural heritage he is talking about, the thing that makes us unique as a country, and which is the bedrock of our entire tourism industry. And Brownlee wants to turn it into a giant hole in the ground. If he wants to advance this, he's going to have a serious fight on his hands, and its not just going to be legislative. People have taken direct action to protect our heritage before - during the debate over Manapouri in the 70's, and over Coromandel in the early 90's - and they will do it again.