The resource sector is being forced to hold its breath over the Government's proposal of “no new mines on conservation land,” as it works towards throwing open the idea to consultation, in coming weeks.
With few details available, the mining sector considers this could become a defining moment for the sector, either to hugely undermine its ability to work towards finding new mines and would detract from investment in the sector.
Most of the 200 delegates at the AusIMM New Zealand Mining Conference in Tauranga attended the panel discussion on the subject, with Straterra chief executive Chris Baker, Inside Resources editor Bernie Napp and Lauren Farmer, who is with Vivienne Bull Tenement Consultant.
The Government has the Crown Minerals Act under review and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said last year “no new mines on conservation land,” a refrain taken up by her Conservation Minister, Eugene Sage.
There are five types of conservation land, which cover almost 33% of New Zealand, including 49,300 square kilometres of conservation land and 29,000 sq km of national parks. There are currently 701 active mining permits, and 27 applications with permitting agency New Zealand Petroleum & Minerals.
Baker said there are numerous tensions at present, not only between the Green Party and New Zealand First, but between Department of Conservation (DoC) and the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment.
“If this proposal was to go through, it would nationalise the asset. It would be discouraging for investment,” he said.
He believed there were safeguards enough in the Resource Management Act and Crown Minerals Act, both of which set conditions for mining to take place.
“If this goes through there's nothing good in it for NZ Inc. It's a big deal,” he said.
Given later questions from the floor, it appeared unclear whether no new mines meant at ground level only, or included underground operations.
Baker was picking that once consultation opened in coming weeks, it should be open into the New Year, not closed in late December, for the industry to consider better.
“To make a difference to broader public opinion you won't do it in six months,” he said.
He wanted to mobilise those in the sector, including AusIMM members and Straterra, the industry lobby group, to encourage submissions.
Napp said there was not time enough to change existing public perceptions of mining, noting the entire mining industry around the country had a smaller footprint on DoC land, than either hydro dams, hotels or the country's ski fields.
Both Baker and Dr Farmer asked was the proposal just “a solution without a problem,” in the first place.
Dr Farmer noted in question time that just 0.008% of the entire DoC estate had mining permits covering it.
“We've had access to the DoC estate for a long time - there's not much disturbed, its hard to fine (historical) mines, she said.
All three speakers were concerned the public did not seem to realise, or know, mining contributed $2.6 billion to the country's gross domestic product, and employed 4,300 people, plus several more thousand indirectly.
*Simon Hartley is senior business reporter and assistant chief reporter for the Otago Daily Times.