Mining and New Zealand’s Conservation Estate
- Mining in Aotearoa New Zealand is largely governed by the Crown Minerals Act 1993. There is a small provision in this Act called Schedule Four which is a schedule of land where mining is prohibited. It is yet to be tested as to whether this includes underground mining, and contrarily prospecting and exploration are permitted in these protected areas.
- There are currently 3.4 million hectares of New Zealand public conservation land listed in Schedule Four of the Crown Minerals Act 1991, including a sub-set of national parks, and 5.1 million hectares of conservation land not listed in Schedule Four
- In 2010, the then Government released a discussion paper suggesting some conservation land be released from Schedule Four [of the Crown Minerals Act] for possible mining; 40,000 people marched on Queen Street in protest, with some 37,500 submissions made. In response, the Government decided not to remove any land from Schedule Four.
- In more recent times, a commitment was made by the Labour led Government that took office in 2017 that they would ban mining in conservation land; sadly, they have failed to enact this policy and today most Conservation land in Aotearoa New Zealand remains vulnerable to mining.
Mining Given Preferential Treatment to Use Conservation Land
- The legislation around mining and conservation and is problematic. There is reasonable protection for conservation land under the Conservation Act 1987, but in the Crown Minerals Act, mining was exempted and given a less rigorous consenting process. Further to that, the purpose of the Crown Minerals Act was changed in 2013 to be an Act to “promote” mining! We have been lobbying for this to change, and have been submitting on any opportunities to amend this bad legislation.
Coromandel and Gold Mining
- There are currently 11 mining exploration permits in the Hauraki/Coromandel covering approximately 40,000 hectares of land – including offshore at Waihi Beach.
- There is also now, as of 2020, a significant mining permit over Public Conservation Land behind Whangamatā, above the Parakiwai Valley at Whrekirauponga. This area is a significant forest area, home to threatened species including a core habitat of the Archeys frog, the worlds most threatened frog.
- Oceana Gold has permits to drill at Hikuai, gaining compliance consents from TCDC in 2020. It appears they are looking to go under Schedule 4 Public Conservation Land from a private farm, similar to what is proposed at Wharekirauponga.
Mining Can Adversely Affect Our ‘Clean Green’ Reputation and associated national image
- Tourism makes a 10% contribution to national GDP versus mining, including oil, gas and coal which
makes up less than 1.5% of the Nation’s GDP (Stats NZ). It is safe to say that it is more likely that tourists are attracted to New Zealand for our beautiful, unique environment than for our mines!
- There is increasing emphasis internationally on investment that is not carbon intensive – recycled gold is beginning to fetch a premium, where conventionally sourced gold is seen as less ‘green’ as extraction is carbon intensive and ecologically harmful.
- Aotearoa New Zealands conservation estate is one of the biggest jewels in our crown; it attracts tourists and provides many opportunities for us to have a point of difference to others, it is our single biggest terrestrial carbon sink, and it is the habitat that supports the vast unique indigenous biodiversity that most of us are so proud of – and that some of us spend a lot of time working hard to save!
The Promised Economic Benefits for Local Communities
- Newmont Waihi Gold, who were active on the Coromandel/Hauraki area until 2016, claimed to have spent $299 million in the Waihi area from 2006 – 2010, yet the town schools are ranked decile 3 or below, and Waihi has the lowest decile ranking in the social deprivation index of any Coromandel region town. To learn more…. There is also further discussion of the index here.
The Legacy of Mining for the New Zealand Taxpayer
- No royalties were paid on the Waihi Martha Open Pit Mine for a long time. Now they are the pittance that our Government asks, not more than 1% of whats taken.
- Newmont Waihi Gold’s Martha Mine has generated tailings approximately 300 times larger than those at the Tui mine. Using the Tui mine costings as a benchmark, if just 10% of the Martha mine tailings required similar remedial work in the future the cost to taxpayers would be approximately $500 million. Read more…
- Oceana Gold has provided bonds of approximately $30 million. But only a $10 million bond will be available in the long term, and even this is “reviewable”. About 10 years after mine closure, the mining company will hand title of the tailings dam to a local Trust, which we understand to comprise of Council and iwi, and the mining company will wipe its hands of any further liability. To learn more…
- Over the past few years, Oceana Gold has signaled a range of proposals which have culminated in the announcement of several major expansions in Waihi and the Southern Coromandel Forest Range Conservation land:
- a new toxic dam,
- a new rock storage facility (another toxic dump),
- a new open pit, a new underground mine under the old (collapsing) pit,
- the kicker – a mine underneath significant conservation land – to be reached via a 6.8km tunnel through hard rock with high toxic mineral presence and a high water table;
- a tunnel that would go under streams in this ecosystem, necessitating the need to remove huge amounts of water from the system.
- Further, Oceana Gold has secured an exploration permit over the Golden Cross Mine, a gold mine in conservation land that was abandoned after it became apparent that it was highly unstable – including it’s toxic waste ponds!
- New Talisman Gold Ltd, who have spent the last several years (unsuccessfully) trying to reopen the Talisman mine in the beautiful Mt Karangahake. They have recently overhauled their internal management Board, and are again making noises about getting the mine going.
- In May 2023 the unpopular Australian mining giant Clive Palmer applied for exploration permits over two huge areas of land covering more than 30,000ha. One permit to the South of Whitianga and a second that ironically encompasses both Schedule 4 land around Tairua and land South of that protective line – all the way to the Wentworth!