Politics | Taranaki

‘One swipe of the pen by three ministers’ - Taranaki seabed mining proposal may try fast-track

Opponents fear Trans Tasman Resources (TTR) will use the government’s fast-track consenting process to win consent to extract iron, titanium and vanadium 36km off the coast from Pātea.

That comes after the company pulled out of second-go consent hearings, despite having been rejected by four courts.

TTR announced just before Easter that it was pulling out of the Environmental Protection Authority’s reconsideration of its application to mine 50 million tonnes of seabed every year for 30 years off the Taranaki Blight.

The company believes it can mine environmentally safely and create a billion-dollar industry.

The project was back in front of the EPA after years of legal battles and a Supreme Court ruling that said there were not enough conditions to protect the environment.

Fast-track submissions opened today with TTR having until April 19 to make its case for the Taranaki seabed.

Opposition gathering

It’s of particular concern for Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and her iwi, Ngāti Ruanui, who have been fighting against seabed mining for over a decade.

“What I am seeing is thousands who are asking to do submissions, how to stand against this process, which is not only a short [way] to deny us environmentally [but] they made [it] a short turnaround in how we as whānau respond,” she said.

She wasn’t comfortable that the government could now fast-track any project, including this one.

“As Māori, nothing about this government makes me feel comfortable. Nothing about this government should make us feel comfortable.

“What it proves is no matter how many times we have won in many courts, in the environmental justice system, [It] can be overridden.

“One swipe of the pen by three ministers. This expert panel can be overridden by one minister,” she said.

Horrified at ‘shortcut for miners’

Ngarewa-Packer was referring to the Fast Track Approval Bill, which was introduced earlier this year.

The ministers with decision-making powers are NZ First’s regional development and fisheries minister Shane Jones, plus National’s Chris Bishop and Simeon Brown, who are ministers for infrastructure and transport respectively.

In some cases, a fourth minister, National’s Tama Potaka, will be involved as the Minister of Conservation. This would be when an activity prohibited under the Wildlife Act is applied for.

“[I’m] horrified we have a government that has opened up a shortcutting for miners such as Trans Tasman Resources, which has lost in all courts here in Aotearoa,” Ngarewa-Packer said.

She had some warning words for Jones: “Taranaki are not easy hapū, they are staunch hapū. I would like him to take this activity up to his own hapū.

“We have fought, we have won. We will continue to rise when these sunset politicians disappear and how will he as a minister who was quoted saying, ‘We will milk mother earth, milk the resources of mother earth’,” she said.

‘No way to clean up oceans’

Last December, Jones told Parliament, “We are going to extract the dividend from Mother Nature’s legacy.”

He also told the House the coalition government was looking into fast-tracking mining.

“[To] suddenly disclose his conflict and now purports himself to be a minister of fisheries. Absolute hypocrisy of Shane not only to purport in his portfolio but the way they are overriding any environmental protection and any security for our future generations,” Ngarewa-Packer told Te Ao Māori News.

“There is no way they will be able to clean up our oceans once mining has killed everything.”

Asked for comment, Jones said he didn’t have time “for responding to her kōrero”.

‘Searching for a perch’

“I know the most important thing is to generate more resilience, more economic opportunity for our people because Taranaki is seeing its own Māori whānau disappear to Australia to engage in the mining industry.

“Debbie is an opposition politician, she’s searching for relevance. She’s searching for a perch upon which she can crow.

“Colourful language is part of being a politician and I’ll leave Debbie on her perch as a flightless bird.”

Jones said people shouldn’t be hiding from the fact that Aotearoa already used mineral sands

“Both in the West Coast and in Taharoa, a Māori-owned outfit and this applicant [TTR] wants to take the mineral sands from the bed of the ocean and once again it’s not doing anything that’s illegal but it has to go through the established process and there’s no guarantee as to what the outcome will be.”

Jones said he wanted science and economics to be the determining factor on whether there will mining on the coast of Taranaki.

- Additional reporting by RNZ