The government is making plans to ramp up the mining of our land, forests and seas if they are re-elected. Over recent months we have seen new initiatives for logging, mining, oil exploration and fossil fuel power stations. Unless we change the government, we are likely to see more exploitation of our natural resources by foreign corporations and more damage to our environment.
As an example, the government has been opening the door to logging native forests. In 2014, the government abused Parliamentary processes to ram through changes under urgency to the Conservation Act, initially for windblown timber. But it has recently been revealed that this is part of a longer term plan to extend this and allow Ministerial discretion to open up logging of old growth forest in reserves and conservation land. The initial push is for logging on steep slopes of the Grey Valley and around Lake Brunner on the West Coast of the South Island.
This is being coupled with attempts to weaken the Forests Act which controls the export of native logs. The shady dealing in the export of Northland kauri swamp logs under the pretence that they are ‘manufactured” shows the pattern of ripping out our valuable natural resources with little economic benefit.
The government is also planning to open up mining on conservation land. It has been revealed that the Government is planning to open up areas of the West Coast’s Buller Plateau for open-cast and underground coal mining. This follows the debacle over the Bathurst-owned Escarpment mine on the Denniston plateau. After a lengthy court battle, the mine was mothballed in 2016 after a major user (Holcim Cement) moved away from the West Coast, and after coal prices continued to plummet. The damage to the fragile environment remains.
The government still hasn’t seen the writing on the wall for coal, having wasted millions of dollars of taxpayers’ funds on Solid Energy, as well as continuing the suffering for families of the miners who lost their lives in the Pike River disaster. Mining coal in New Zealand is an economic and environmental disaster. I joined more than 50,000 people who marched down Queen Street against mining on conservation land, and I know the protests will be even bigger in future.
The government is also subsidising the depletion of our oil and gas reserves. Not only is $46 million provided for oil exploration tax breaks and subsidies, the Green Party has revealed that the government has an obligation to pay over $800 million for decommissioning oil rigs. Despite signing the Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a massive block has been opened up for oil exploration, including one third of the habitat of the 63 remaining Maui dolphin and the shores of Lake Te Anau. This is like investing in stones at the end of the Stone Age.
Adding insult to injury, a consent has been issued for a new gas-fired power plant in the Waikato, ignoring strong local opposition, including from mana whenua at the nearby Kahotea marae. The government has forced through rules in the Resource Management Act that do not allow consideration of climate change. So much for the government’s PR spin about increasing renewable energy.
The government’s trade agenda would lock in these contracts with foreign investors to exploit our resources. Agreements like the TPPA and others allow foreign investors to take the government to an international tribunal and demand compensation for lost profits if contracts are curtailed to conserve our resources and protect the environment.
This government is needlessly destroying our ancient native forests, threatening the survival of endangered species, increasing greenhouse gas emissions and undermining democratic processes in the pursuit of misguided notions of economic growth for the few. There are better options than these destructive policies. There are more jobs and opportunities in tourism and processing natural products associated with conserving our environment than short term jobs from destroying it. We can benefit more from loving nature than destroying it.
At the heart of the extraction mindset is a failure of economics. The money from selling off our resources gets counted but the depletion of our natural assets and the associated environmental damage is ignored. This is fertile territory for a government desperate to pump up economic growth figures.
Another term of office of this government would see exploitation of our remaining natural resources and environmental damage on a larger scale, all in the name of short term profits for a few. There are better alternatives. We need a change of direction towards a fairer and more sustainable economy. We need a new government, with the Greens at its heart.
Barry Coates is a Green Party list MP, based in Auckland.