Friday, April 30, 2010

The New Zealand Conservation Authority on mining

The New Zealand Conservation Authority is a statutory body established to advise the Minister of Conservation on the management of our reserves and national parks. Given that role, you'd expect them to have something to say about the government's plans to mine in national parks. And you'd be right. Their briefing to the Minister [PDF] utterly pans the government's plans:

The key concepts in the National Parks Act 1980 are the preservation of certain places "as far as possible in their natural state" in perpetuity, because they are "so beautiful, unique or scientifically important that their preservation is in the national interest". They are preserved "for their intrinsic worth and for the benefit, use and enjoyment of the public". Another defining quality of national parks is that they are freely accessible to all: "The public shall have freedom of entry and access to the parks, so that they may receive in full measure the inspiration, enjoyment, recreation, and other benefits that may be derived from mountains, forests, sounds, seacoasts, lakes, rivers, and other natural features."


The key concepts cited in the previous paragraphs are in direct conflict with the imperatives of the mining industry.

The NZCA opposes any mining in national parks on philosophical principles. National parks are a taonga. They should not be mined.

They have little to say about the non-national park areas in the government's proposal, since they're outside their authority. But they do note that despite all its rhetoric about "balancing the economy and the environment",

that balancing exercise does not, on the face of the Paper, appear to have been undertaken for those areas. It appears to be sufficient that they have good mining prospects irrespective of their conservation values.
They also oppose the proposal for "joint approval" (meaning: approval by the Minister of Energy and Resources rather than the Minister of Conservation) for mining in Schedule 4 as
contrary to the scheme of the CM Act but also because inherent in it is a lowering of the bar for undertaking mining activities in all public conservation areas.
The Crown Minerals Act separates the granting of a mining licence (something the government does) from the granting of access to mine (something the landowner does). The Minister of Conservation is the effective landowner in this case, though the land is held in trust for the people of New Zealand. Its entirely appropriate that they get to have the final say, and assess whether mining is compatible with the purpose for which the land is held. But its that assessment - which would almost invariably result in a negative answer - the government wants to avoid.

These are strong words from the NZCA, and the advice is unlikely to be welcomed by the government.