Helen Clark broke with convention on her visit back to New Zealand by criticizing two aspects of Government policy, the prospect of mining on conservation land and Radio New Zealand being forced to live within its budget.

You'll never die wondering what she thinks, she was so fond of saying when she was prime minister. Happily that continues.

Most former PMs - and former deputies and finance ministers for that matter - are far more discreet and refuse to get involved in political debates of the day.

It's unnatural for people whose working lives have been devoted to having opinions. And it often looks as though they don't want to offend cabinet's appointments and honours committee which dishes out the post-politics jobs.

It may be because she is a former Conservation Minister that Clark felt strongly enough to put the boot into the prospect of mining DOC land.

Before heading off her 60th birthday party at Chris Carter's place in Auckland, she told Paul Holmes on Q+A yesterday that "some things are more important than money."

Who would want to see the Martha Mine in the Tongariro National Park? She asked. (Nobody actually).

The trouble with Clark' position is it is a case of do as she says, not as she did. Clark's Government was responsible for approving the Pike River Coal Mining under the Paparoa ranges in the DOC estate 50km from Greymouth.

In fact it was approved by Chris Carter, who was a tough Conservation Minister under Clark's close watch. Part of Carter's 2004 press statement says:

"This mine does represent an intrusion into an area of high conservation values and a decision on whether to allow it to go ahead has been a very difficult one to make because of this," Mr Carter said.

"I have considered the fact that the mine is mostly underground and its visual footprint above ground is small (10 hectares) compared with the large area of protected landscape surrounding it (88,000 hectares). Most of the public conservation land that will be affected is stewardship land. There are only small impacts on the neighbouring ecological area and the Paparoa National Park, which carry a much higher legal status.

"Taking into account the criteria laid down in the Crown Minerals Act, I have concluded that the partial safeguards and compensation deal offered by the company are sufficient to outweigh the inconsistencies between the application and objectives of the Conservation Act under which these lands are held, the various purposes for which these lands are held and the relevant management plans that apply."

National is undertaking a stocktake of DOC land to see what minerals lie beneath it and it is giving assurances that any mining would be discreet and it cites Pike River as the model which doesn't sound too bad at all.

Hon Gerry Brownlee (Minister of Energy and Resources): The purpose of the stocktake is to identify areas of land in schedule 4[of the Crown Minerals Act] where the conservation values are relatively low but mineral potential high. The Government will consider removing those areas of land from schedule 4 so that environmentally responsible mining can take place on very small sections within that land. New Zealand is a mineral-rich country, and responsible mining of low-value conservation areas can contribute significantly to job and economic growth in this country.

The trouble is that when it comes to mining, National has been altogether too discreet. It was not upfront with the public about its intentions its 2008 election policy. It did not signal its plans to expand mining on the conservation estate. I guess it thought it would be too controversial. It was right.