The Government has reneged on its promise to give the public a say on whether Bathurst Resources' Denniston opencast coalmine should go ahead, on the first working day after the election, says Forest and Bird.
After the Government's back down last year on opening national parks to mining, Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson and Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee said, significant applications to mine on public conservation land should be publicly notified.
Forest and Bird Top of the South field officer Debs Martin said her organisation had been trying to get Ms Wilkinson to follow through on this promise since August.
It seemed disingenuous to wait until the first working day after the election to confirm that there would be no public consultation, said Ms Martin.
"It seems that they held out until after the election because they didn't want any publicity on it."
In essence Ms Wilkinson's letter to Forest and Bird yesterday had said that as there was currently no legal requirement to consult the public on the mine, The Government would not do so, she said.
However, the Government would be reviewing the Crown Minerals Act and the Government's promise to change public notification legislation this year.
What constituted a significant mining application would be dealt with as part of the review.
Ms Martin said that although public notification wasn't a legal requirement there was nothing stopping the minister seeking it.
The Crown Minerals Act said the minister could take any relevant matters into account when granting mine access, said Ms Martin.
Given that Denniston was on public conservation land, had created high public interest and would be the largest mine operating on conservation land in New Zealand, the public's view was relevant for the minister to consider, she said.
It's a priority site for biodiversity protection and the largest mine operating on public conservation land. What could be more significant than that?
Forest and Bird advocate Nicola Vallance said Denniston, with its wide range of threatened native plants and animals, belonged to all New Zealanders and was held in trust for them for future generations.
The public was being shut out of standing up for their natural heritage, she said.
Newly elected West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O'Connor said it was the kind of promise-breaking expected from a National Government.
However, he said giving the rest of New Zealand a say on a 160ha opencast mine on public conservation land in Buller was similar to Buller people expecting a say on sewerage infrastructure in Auckland.
Coast-based Green MP Kevin Hague said Ms Wilkinson needed to stop ducking for cover and reassure the public it would have a meaningful say over whether the Denniston Plateau was mined.
The only other place like it in the world was the Stockton plateau and that had already been devastated by opencast mining, said Mr Hague.
New Zealanders were deeply interested in proposals to mine in the country's most precious wild places. The public response to National's proposal to mine in National Parks was strong evidence of this.
To date, the Minister of Conservation has dodged her responsibility to be a strong advocate for the public's interest in protecting the conservation estate.
Large Australian mining companies have no long-term interest in our environment nor our economy and should not be given privileged treatment by this National Government to keep their mining plans out of the public eye, Mr Hague said.
The public was notified and consulted on the local councils' Resource Management Act hearing that found in favour of the mine.
Meanwhile, at its annual general meeting yesterday Bathurst managing director Hamish Bohannan told shareholders no major issues had been raised by the Department of Conservation for its concession and access arrangement for the Denniston mine.
Bathurst was now preparing an application for its next mine, and all going to plan mining in Northern Buller would begin in 2016, said Mr Bohannan's report.
The South Buller project including Denniston was already fully financed. Currently hard coking coal was selling at US$250 per tonne.
Taking away the production costs, it would still bring in a total profit of $145 - $167 per tonne.
Bathurst subsidiary Rochfort Coal Limited has just applied for an extension of its exploration permit on 816.226ha of land at Whareatea. The current nine-year permit expires next month.