Thursday, May 23, 2013

Selling out the conservation estate

So, as expected Nick Smith has granted Bathurst Resources an access agreement to turn the Denniston Plateau into a giant open-cast coal mine. But don't worry! The government is getting paid for it!

“The loss of conservation values is compensated by a $22 million package by Bathurst Resources. This will fund pest and predator control over 25,000 hectares of the Heaphy River catchment in the Kahurangi National Park, 4,500 hectares on and around the Denniston Plateau, as well as for historic projects on the Plateau itself. This is the largest ever compensation package negotiated by DOC for a mine or other commercial venture.

In other words, Nick Smith has just agreed to effectively sell part of our conservation estate for thirty pieces of silver. Not that he actually sold it, of course, because that would require a much tougher assessment, so instead he's leasing it for the purpose of being destroyed.

It will be interesting to see what the official advice says about this. Access agreements to Crown land must have regard to "the objectives of any Act under which the land is administered" (in this case "to promote the conservation of New Zealand's natural and historic resources") and to the purpose for which the land is held. And the advice will emerge - either under the OIA or as part of discovery in the inevitable application for judicial review. If its not absolutely bulletproof, than it will be overturned. And on that front the mere timing of the decision - the day before greater consultation requirements were due to come into force - provides prima facie evidence of bad faith on the part of the Minister. The last thing he wanted was the public being given a chance to have our say on the issue.