Greens full of 'hostile rhetoric' over Northland mining - Jones

By Kate Shuttleworth

Labour Party MP Shane Jones. Photo / NZ Herald
Labour Party MP Shane Jones. Photo / NZ Herald

Iwi leaders are divided over a view that mining in Northland could be a silver bullet for solving Maori unemployment in the area.

Northland-based Labour list MP Shane Jones said mining would create job openings for low-income Maori families and he was tired of "hostile rhetoric from the greenies''.

Mr Jones said that with limited opportunities in farming or tourism, the extractive industries were the best opportunities for jobs and economic advancement for Northland Maori.

Latest unemployment figures show there are about 6500 unemployed in Northland and almost two-thirds are Maori. The median household income in the region last year was $19,200.

Te Rarawa chairman Haami Piripi said he agreed with Mr Jones.

"As (chairmen) representing our respective runanga we've been obliged to explore every option that's available to the development of our people.''

Mr Piripi said there would be numerous employment opportunities for local people. He said mining hadn't historically been a no-no for iwi.

"As early as 1840 our ancestors mined kauri gum. We've moved en masse to places like Huntly to mine for coal and we've established our own quarries in the past. We've extracted sand in order to carry out public works, so mining at the lower-impact end of the spectrum is not unreasonable,'' said Mr Piripi.

Te Runanga-a-iwi o Ngati Kahu chief executive Anahera Herbert-Graves disagreed with mining generating employment for Maori.

"There's an initial flush of work - but mining companies bring in the expertise and we don't have the expertise. The experience around the world is that indigenous people don't make a lot of money out of it.''

Mrs Herbert-Graves, who grew up on a farm and was a trustee on Northland's largest farming block in Parengarenga, said the return of land would lower unemployment.

"We're terrific farmers; we're terrific land users,'' she said.

Far North District Mayor Wayne Brown and Energy and Resources Minister Phil Heatley met at Waitangi in May to showcase data from an aeromagnetic survey of Northland.

The survey finds gold, silver and copper deposits - gold and silver deposits in Northland alone are worth $1.53 billion.

Bids received on the Northland tender by December 7 would be evaluated by a Government panel, with five-year exploration permits awarded to successful bidders in early April, 2013.

Mana Party leader Hone Harawira said he was not anti-mining but opposed to the destruction mining can leave.

"I think we need to have a clearer view of what it is that we want for the long term future for the north,'' he said.

He said the types of mining proposed by the Government were not going to generate employment for local Maori and iwi leaders had not been widely consulted.

"Maori leaders who talk about economic development as a panic measure and forget principles of conservation and future generations need to be very careful about what it is they're saying,'' he said.

Maori youth unemployment in Northland is among the highest in the country, 8.2 per cent of Maori youth aged between 15 and 25 are on the unemployment benefit.

A Herald-DigiPoll survey found most New Zealanders back the Government's plan to increase exploration for oil, gas and minerals.

The poll, conducted late last month, showed 67 per cent of the 750 respondents supported or cautiously supported the Government's aim to increase oil gas and mineral exploration.

And 30 per cent were strongly opposed or leaned towards opposing increasing exploration.

Prime Minister John Key was pleased with the poll after the Government had to backdown on plans for mineral exploration on conservation land two years ago.

- APNZ

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