Why mining must play a part in New Zealand’s future

Why mining must play a part in New Zealand’s future

Posted on 27 September 2018

Hauraki Straterra letter - Waihi Leader Sept 2018

Forest & Bird head Kevin Hague recently came out with some advice for West Coasters, pretty well advising them to give up on mining, claiming “a thriving West Coast economy in the future has to embrace new industries but also to add value through specialisation in existing ones”.

He suggested “software businesses . . . or tourism ventures that focus on small numbers of tourists staying for longer and spending more”.

It’s a message that he might equally have shared with the Hauraki District, as the Government readies itself for consultation on a blanket ban of new mining activities on all conservation land.

But Mr Hague ignores the reality that the RMA provides a sound and independent assessment of resource projects, including mining. This legislation provides some of the most robust environmental protection in the world, and to date it has done so largely without political interference. And he ignores the economic realities of the real benefits mining provides economies such as the West Coast, and Waihi, and New Zealand – jobs, taxes, overseas revenue. These are not trivial issues to be traded off at the stroke of a pen.

And that’s something Mr Hague should note.  As Westland mayor Bruce Smith has noted, ‘the average mining wage is $114,000 but the average tourism wage only $40,000’. This is as true of Waihi as it is of the West Coast.

Last year mining contributed 22.9 per cent to Hauraki District’s GDP and directly employed around four per cent of the district’s workforce.  And, in Waihi, OceanaGold is responsible for between 40-45% of the economic throughput of the town.

It’s true that New Zealand’s regions need to diversify – to grow dwindling populations, increase tourism and encourage entrepreneurialism. They need to find innovative ways to encourage the young to stay and attract skilled migrants from major centres.

That’s happening, thanks to Shane Jones’ Regional Development Fund and specific localised regional development initiatives.

The minerals sector wants to work with government to support regional growth. Mining can and should play a role in that – with conditions in place under which the sector can continue to invest and society can be confident that consents granted for any proposed activities will be appropriate, and will balance the social, economic and environmental impacts so that the proposal makes a positive contribution to society.

Mining makes highly productive use of very limited amounts of land. Mining companies active on the Coromandel are targeting deposits capable of being mined by underground methods with a small surface footprint. Ultimately, all of the land is rehabilitated, so the final footprint is even smaller. 

There needs to be open community consultation on the future of mining on conservation land.  Education is required, too, because most New Zealanders are not aware of the different classifications of conservation land, nor the nature and impact of current mining on conservation land. Good information, based on science and evidence, is essential for good policy.

Chris Baker, Chief Executive of Straterra, the industry group representing the New Zealand minerals sector