Monday, October 05, 2009

Digging up our national parks

When the government first floated plans to open up conservation areas for mining, Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee was keen to downplay the prospect of mining in national parks. Now, according to a briefing paper unearthed by the Greens, we find out that that is exactly what he is after:

Government papers obtained by the Green Party show that the Government is considering allowing oil exploration in Fiordland National Park, as well as mining for gold, coal and other minerals in Kahurangi and Paparoa National Parks as part of its ‘stock-take’ of our highest quality conservation lands for mining.


The Green Party has obtained advice from the Ministry of Economic Development (MED) and Department of Conservation officials under the Official Information Act. The advice says: ‘MED considers that conservation land within the Coromandel Peninsula (precious metals), Kahurangi (precious and base metals), Waitutu (petroleum) and eastern Paparoa (coal) to be worthy of inclusion in such a review [of inclusion in Schedule 4]’.

[Links added]

The full briefing paper [not online] proposes a review of land included in Schedule 4, and points out that it can be amended simply by Order in Council. This requires "consultation" (meaning the Minister meeting in a back room with agreeable donors), but no legislation; it thus avoids Parliamentary scrutiny until after the fact. While it is not explicit, the government's plan is clear: it will simply excise areas its mining industry cronies are interested in from the protection of Schedule 4, with no public debate. They will still have the default protection of the Conservation Act, but with a minister who regards opposition to mining in national parks as "hysteria", that probably doesn't amount to much.

As for the areas they want to dig up or drill, Waitutu is part of Fiordland National Park, the jewel in the crown of our conservation estate. Its so significant that it is a World Heritage Site. Kahurangi is home to the Heaphy Track. Paparoa to the Pancake Rocks, and Coromandel to some of New Zealand's favourite holiday spots. And National wants to dig all of this up. This isn't just a short-sighted privileging of the economy over the environment - it is an attack on our national identity.

We can't let this happen. In the short-term, the way to stop it is to sign the Greens' petition [PDF] in the hope of changing National's mind. In the long term, we need to vote them out of office.