Metiria Turei: Save Treasured Places for Earth Day

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Today is the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day; a chance to reflect on our unique environment, the pressures facing it, and what we need to do to restore and protect it.

EarthdayIt is ironic that in recent weeks we have endured an all-out attack on the environment by John Keys National Government, the likes of which we have not seen for some time.

First the Government announced plans to remove 7000ha of our most precious conservation lands from Schedule 4 to allow mining. Next, the Government sacked Environment Canterbury and appointed hand-picked commissioners to fast-track irrigation projects in Canterbury. Hot on the heels of these announcements came the decision to allow Meridian Energy to build an 85m high hydro dam on one of our most pristine and ecologically valuable wild rivers, the Mkihinui on the West Coast.

We can only hope the old adage, bad things happen in threes holds true.

However, it is the prospect of mining in our National Parks and other precious conservation lands that has really divided New Zealanders. A One News Colmar Brunton poll out this week revealed that 44% of sampled voters supported the Government plans to increase mining in conservation lands, while 48% were opposed.

New Zealanders are clearly not convinced that digging up our National Parks is a sacrifice we need to make.

And we are yet to hear coherent economic arguments from the Government on the pros and cons of this sacrifice.

Last month I questioned the Prime Minister (who is also our Tourism Minister) in the House about the research he has commissioned on the tourism impacts of mining in National Parks. But guess what? He hasnt asked for any. So I then asked the Minister of Finance what research he has asked for on the fiscal impacts of more mining. It appears the Government hasnt asked for that either, despite the increasing condemnation by international media outlets including The Guardian and The Economist over New Zealands hypocrisy in promoting a clean, green brand.

Whats more, the estimates of New Zealands potential mineral wealth range wildly from $6.5 billion to $140 billion, depending on who you listen to. And of course, despite the wealth that is earned by overseas mining companies, royalties from mining (the money returned to the taxpayer) rarely exceed one percent.

So despite the Government repeatedly calling for a calm and informed debate about the prospect of mining in Schedule 4 lands, it turns out we dont have the information we need we dont know what the financial returns of this sacrifice will be, and we have no estimation of the economic impact on our tourism and export industries.

What we do have is a Minister with his mind already made up. Energy & Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee has said hed be very surprised if some of the proposed areas aren’t opened for further exploration and prospecting, as is the intention.

This week, Australian company Oceana Gold pleaded guilty in the Environment Court to polluting a stream near its Globe mine at Reefton. The company has received 15 infringement notices over the last 5 years. This is a modern mine operating on conservation land, and its inability to contain its impacts should send a strong warning to the Government as it contemplates opening up more conservation land to the same fate.

Schedule 4 lands are the best of the best of our conservation lands, and include our National Parks, wilderness areas, ecological areas and marine reserves. They make up just 13% of New Zealands total land mass and represent the most significant of our conservation lands. They deserve protection from mining and exploration.

The Green Party firmly believes that Schedule 4 lands are worth more to New Zealand intact; providing species habitat, recreation opportunities, tourism income, and ecosystem services; and we will continue to oppose any removals from Schedule 4 and any further investigations to assess their mineral potential.

I call on New Zealanders to take the opportunity to have their say on the Governments proposals before May 4. And I call on the Government to listen. These are our lands, not the Ministers, and we say they are simply too precious to mine.

Meteria Turei is the co-leader of the NZ Green Party. See http://www.greens.org.nz

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