Mature debate is urgently needed

Mature debate is urgently needed

Posted on 12 March 2014

Phil McCabe of Kiwis Against Seabed Mining trivialises the offshore ironsands mining issue as an “either-or” debate (Strip-mining or marine life?, March 11 Dominon Post).

Environmentally-responsible development – sustainable management - is the appropriate construct, because the economy is based on businesses, as well as on natural capital.
Under this construct, the applicant identifies the likely environmental effects of their project, and proposes ways of managing them to a high standard of care. The economic benefits are also considered, as well as the effects on competing demands, e.g., fishing, surfing, tourism.

Trans-Tasman Resources is arguing on facts and evidence before a hearings panel in Wellington, under the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012. McCabe will have to apply the same rigour to his side of the argument, if he is to convince the panel to decline the consent application.

All that is for the panel to determine, and I do not wish to intervene. But to press my call for mature, informed debate, I want to challenge McCabe’s innuendo.
While “the entire stretch of seafloor” from Whanganui to Cape Reinga” may be under permit, only a very small fraction of that would ever be mined – for the simple reason that minerals in economic concentrations are found in very few places.

The extent to which businesses are “foreign-owned” is immaterial to considering the economic benefits for New Zealand - at issue are the salaries, taxes, rates, royalties and other charges paid in New Zealand, and payments to local suppliers.

Around 8000 New Zealanders are employed directly and indirectly in mining in New Zealand. Miners earn on average more than double the national average wage – mining is a high-grade job.

As to Namibia’s and Australia’s Northern Territories’ moratoria on seabed mining, the environments there are likely very different from western New Zealand, and, therefore, can offer no precedent. In any event, there is no provision for blanket moratoria under the Act.  

If approved, the mine would be a green-tech operation, because minerals lie at the heart of modern society including the “green economy”. That would be consistent with the New Zealand brand, and should be celebrated.

Opinion polls industry has commissioned (from Pauline Colmar, formerly of Colmar Brunton) have shown that more than 80 percent of Kiwis support resource development - provided locals are employed, most of the money stays in New Zealand, and the environment is managed. All of that is the case.

The fact is that mining earns very high wealth off a small footprint. It would take 767 years of farming on the footprint of the Macraes gold mine, East Otago, to earn the same revenue as that projected for the life of the mine. That mine is being progressively rehabilitated back into productive farmland. Mines on land occupy 0.05 percent of New Zealand’s land area, or a large front door compared to Eden Park. It is an analogous story for the marine environment.

To conclude, there are at least two sides to every story – no argument about that – however, it is fair and reasonable to expect the facts and evidence to be applied in every case.