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Labour and Greens at odds over Coromandel mining decision

A Labour Party pre-election promise to extend Schedule 4 protection against mining to southern Coromandel conservation land has fallen by the wayside.

Labour’s promise to protect conservation land south of the Coromandel from mining has been quietly broken for what a Green MP calls a "disingenuous" reason.

Both the Labour and Green parties made pre-election commitments to extend Schedule 4 protection currently in place in the north of the Coromandel to include southern areas.

Crown Minerals Act Schedule 4 protection is intended to protect land with high conservation value from mining.

Two years after a petition asking for the extension of protected conservation land was lodged a select committee has decided not to extend the protection. The decision says:

“The conservation land that the petitioner proposes for inclusion in Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act includes areas that are currently being considered for redress as part of Treaty settlements. For that reason, we do not think it is appropriate for us to make any recommendations on whether the status of this land should change.”

Only the Green party are recorded as objecting to the decision in what’s recorded as a “minority view”.

Green MP Gareth Hughes was a member of the committee and said it's disappointing the committee didn't support the petition..

“The committee is hiding behind pending treaty settlements in opposing the petition. This is disingenuous.

“It is possible to progress both discussions regarding extending Schedule 4 and Treaty settlements.”

He said the petitioner had been cognisant of the negotiations and hadn’t proposed strict geographic boundaries for that reason.

“What we have seen across the country is iwi and hapū being very supportive of protecting their land from mining threats through Schedule 4, and conservation land, as any part of a treaty settlement would have to be negotiated.”

The Department of Conservation was unable to comment on what might be discussed in live negotiations and said it could not tell the Select Committee if iwi and hapū had requested the land not have Schedule 4 protection, but did say:

"We are not aware of any legislated settlements resulting in changes to Schedule 4 application."

What a difference two years make

Labour’s 2017 election platform conservation policy makes specific mention of extending the Schedule 4 protection:

“Labour will: Amend Schedule 4 to add ecological areas and world heritage sites to the generic protected categories, and to extend southwards the described area of the Coromandel.”

A footnote defines this as: “This would add to the Schedule 4, item 12 description of the Coromandel Peninsula all the conservation land south of the Kopu-Hikuai Road to the southern boundary of the Te Aroha Ecological District.”

Hughes said he believes Labour’s environment Minister David Parker had accepted the petition and written the policy to extend protection in both 2014 and 2017.

“I think people will be scratching their heads wondering why Labour wasn’t supporting something they had campaigned on in the last two elections.”

When contacted by Newsroom for comment on whether the lack of objection to the decision back-tracked on Labour’s pre-election stance, Parker’s office suggested the question should be directed to the Ministers of Energy or Conservation.

The Minister of Conservation, Eugenie Sage, is a member of the Green party.

Labour's pre-election manifesto. Image source: 2017 Labour conservation manifesto

A spokeperson from the Minister for Energy Megan Wood's office told Newsroom: 

"Expanding Schedule 4 in these areas was 2017 policy. However the Government is currently working through the much broader policy of no new mines on conservation land, as outlined in the Speech from the Throne."

A discussion document is due in the coming months. 

"As made clear in the Select Committee report, part of the land in question is being considered for redress as part of Treaty settlements. In this context it's appropriate for the Government to work through the policy process on no new mines on conservation land, as well as the relevant Treaty settlement discussions and to address this issue through these processes."

Until a ban is in place, the Department of Conservation must assess applications under existing legislation. Since the ban was proposed, several applications have been approved.

Hughes thinks the area should get urgent protection, pointing out it is home to several threatened species.

“Back in 1997 when the land north of this line was added into Schedule 4 the National Government of the time just drew an arbitrary line across the Coromandel peninsula. There’s an estimated one hundred endangered species in the southern section.”

These include kiwi, geckos, long-tailed bats, paua slug and Archey’s frog as well as a number of plant species.

“It’s an ecologically significant area, and gold and silver mining does come with a big environmental footprint and risk to those species.”

Currently New Talisman Gold Mines operates in the Karangahake Gorge on conservation land. Its submission to the Select Committee said it believes mining can take place in conservation areas with a small amount of surface activity.

It said its mining area in the Kaimai Mamaku Conservation Park is not accessible by the public.

“It believes it would be unjustified to prevent the mining of what it believes to be a world-class resource when the environmental effects are so low.”

Archey's Frog is classed as nationally vulnerable. It was once found through-out New Zealand, now it exists in only two places, outside Te Kūiti, and in the Coromandel. Photo: David M. Green CC BY-SA 2.5

A spokesperson for Coromandel Watchdog of Hauraki, Augusta Macassey-Pickard said a number of aspects of the select committee decision were disappointing.

"We have deep concerns about mining activities here, the precedents that would be set for all the rest of the Coromandel and how desperately vulnerable this environment, these species, are to industrial mining."

The group is reviewing the reasoning behind the decision.

"It seems that Labour has not supported this, despite having it as a policy in their manifesto for more than 10 years and Minister David Parker restated that support for the move publicly last year."

Hughes thinks while the package to ban mining on conservation land is being worked on the current  situation warrants immediate action.

“I think it's a matter of urgency while the national level policies developed that we can act to protect this ecologically significant area”

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