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Digging up minerals is an emotive issue but the benefits are real, writes Gerry Brownlee.

Try going a day without any goods or services that don't require or depend on a product that has been mined.

From your inner-spring mattress to your car (or even your bike), computer, cellphone and medical equipment; the activities that make up our day and enhance our lives are in most cases only possible because someone, somewhere, has mined something.

It's the "somewhere" the Government is asking New Zealanders to think about.

Mining is an emotive issue and it's important we have a mature and considered debate. That debate should include a discussion about the economic benefits.

Many New Zealanders will not know that mining already makes a sizeable contribution to our economy. Mining in 2008 was a $2 billion industry and contributed $1.1 billion to exports.

Including oil and gas, the mining industry employs around 6000 people - and those jobs are highly productive and highly paid, relative to other sectors of the economy.

Mining is an important part of regional economies such as the West Coast and the Coromandel.

The Government is currently borrowing around $240 million a week and we have more than 100,000 people unemployed. The tradables sector of the economy has been in recession for the past five years.

That is unsustainable and the Government accepts the challenge of improving our economy and living standards.

We need to do some things to improve the income side of the ledger. So, as a Government we have been looking at all sectors of the economy to see what we can do to improve performance.

For the minerals sector, it is access to prospective land that is key to its growth.

We are therefore proposing to open up to possible mining just 7058ha of land that is currently protected in Schedule Four of the Crown Minerals Act.

That is only 0.2 per cent of all the land that is protected in Schedule Four, and it is a tiny amount compared with our total land area.

If prospecting that land showed potential for mining, it's likely no more than 500ha of the 7058ha would actually be mined. That's less than the size of the average sheep or beef farm in New Zealand.

But the economic return on that land is many times greater than any sheep, beef or dairy farm.

It's worth noting that mining already takes place on conservation land in New Zealand. There are 82 mines operating on conservation land and 118 permits for mining are at present active over conservation land.

Some people argue that New Zealand would not see any benefit from increased mining and that all the profits go overseas.

Yet the largest mining company in the country, Solid Energy, is 100 per cent state-owned. All its profits go straight towards spending on government services. There are also many New Zealand-owned mining companies active on New Zealand land.

The average ownership structure of resources companies listed on the NZX is 57 per cent New Zealand and 43 per cent overseas ownership. Others that are fully overseas-owned pay both company tax and royalties in New Zealand.

Some argue that the royalties from mineral mining are small, meaning it's not worth it for New Zealand. But royalties are just an added bonus from mining.

The real benefits from mining are the jobs created and economic activity generated inside the country. That activity generates company tax revenue for the Government as well as economic growth.

Many New Zealanders are rightly concerned about protecting our natural environment and some say mining is inconsistent with that goal. The Government shares this concern and we will make sure any mining on conservation land in New Zealand is done responsibly and carefully.

Mines in New Zealand are subject to strict environmental tests. The higher the conservation value of the land concerned, the stricter the test. That fact will rule out open-cast mines on Schedule Four land.

Modern mining is totally different from its image in the past. Companies are required to rehabilitate the land after they leave and mitigate the effects of their activities as much as possible.

A good example of a responsible mining company is Pike River Coal in the Paparoa Ranges, which won an award from the Department of Conservation for the environmental consideration it displayed in developing its underground mine.

Some have also argued that mining puts New Zealand's clean and green image at risk and that tourism may be affected. But the Government is proposing only a small increase in mining activity for quite large economic gain.

Tourism numbers rose between 2000 and 2008 while the mining sector grew and mining permits were issued for conservation land.

Other countries are able to marry their environmental image with a strong mining industry - for example, Canada. There is no reason New Zealand cannot do the same.

The decision about whether or not to open up 7058ha of Schedule Four land for further prospecting and possible mining is the subject of the discussion document out for public consultation.

The Government believes a small increase in responsible mining could contribute to our goal of improving the economy's performance and providing high-value jobs.

We want to hear what Kiwis are thinking. I encourage people to have their say by making submissions on the discussion document that you can find at

* Gerry Brownlee is Minister of Energy and Resources.