Fran O'Sullivan: Green image not at stake in mining plans

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Instead of discussing the proposals rationally, many prominent Kiwis simply go into default mode. Photo / Natalie Slade
Instead of discussing the proposals rationally, many prominent Kiwis simply go into default mode. Photo / Natalie Slade

You could hardly blame Economic Development Minister Gerry Brownlee for wanting to open up some 7000 hectares of conservation land for mining on areas ranging from Coromandel, Paparoa National Park on the West Coast, and parts of Northland and Rakiura National Park (Stewart Island) given the potential for increasing NZ's national wealth.

Some $80 billion of the NZ's estimated $194 billion estimated onshore mineral wealth (apart from hydrocarbons) sits on Conservation land. Accessing even 10 per cent of that would give the NZ economy a fillup in coming years by bolstering our balance of payments, creating new jobs and earning royalties for the taxpayer.

This is exactly the kind of diversification we ought to be considering if NZ is to grow to the point where young New Zealanders decide they can build a future here.

But instead of discussing the proposals rationally, many prominent Kiwis simply go into default mode.

It's not really NZ's 'clean green image' that is at stake here but the image of Auckland's playground: Great Barrier Island and the Coromandel.

This is where much of the opposition will bed in: The Nimby syndrome.

Carving off several conservation estate areas which are currently subject to protection, is not going to open the way to wholesale mining within NZ's national parks. Mining already does take place in national parks thanks to the approvals issued by the Labour Government,

But listening to Green co-leaders Metiria Turei and Norman Russell banging on about the plan to "responsibly mine" part some parts of the conservation estate you would think that the Government has in mind is nothing short of a Nauru-style 'dig up the entire island' approach.

The reality is that what the Crown Minerals stock-take achieves is to make it clear that New Zealand – just like Australia – has the potential to be a lucky country.

The Government's proposals as outlined in response to the discussion document – Maximising our mineral potential – are very much a toe in the water approach.

Despite all the hysteria from the environmental lobby, Prime Minister John Key has hardly proved to be 'Gordon Gekko in drag' when it comes to his Government's plan to dig up and export some of New Zealand's mineral wealth.

Pity really.

Fran O'Sullivan

A columnist for the NZ Herald

Fran O'Sullivan has written a weekly column for the Business Herald since its inception in April 1997. In her early journalistic career she was a political journalist in Wellington and subsequently an investigative journalist who broke many major business stories including the first articles that led to the Winebox Inquiry in both NBR and the Sydney Morning Herald. She has specific expertise in relation to China where she has been a frequent visitor since the late 1990s. She is a former Editor of the National Business Review; has twice been awarded Qantas Journalist of the Year and is a multiple winner of the Westpac Financial Journalism Supreme Award.

Read more by Fran O'Sullivan

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