Catherine Delahunty

Mining the truth in Northland

by Catherine Delahunty

It takes a lot of effort to mine for the truth among all the rhetoric and spin coming from the industry and our National-led Government. Currently, the Far North District Mayor is heading to a large miner’s conference in Canada to sell the minerals of Te Tai Tokerau/Northland to foreign miners.

The trip has to be subsidised, with moneys taken from Northland ratepayers who haven’t been asked and with subsidies from the Ministry of Economic Development; that is all taxpayers. He will be touting a spin doctor’s masterpiece that itself was subsidised by those same tax and rate payers, while giving away screeds of geological research and data that was also subsidised by the taxpayer. He will be inviting those mining companies to come and exploit a country who’s environmental, safety and royalty regimes are so lax that it ranks second in the world for mining company friendliness. But don’t take my word for it, the Mayor freely admits in today’s Bay Chronicle that it’s all subsidised and that New Zealand is ‘business-friendly’.

All Mayor Brown can talk about is the money this will generate, and the jobs. He is simply parroting the spin of the mining companies, who want you to believe that mining brings lots of jobs, pays lots of taxes, contributes to savings and superannuation and leads exports.

The truth is a lot less comforting. What they don’t want to talk about is the super profits, the history and magnitude of foreign ownership, and the amount of subsidies they squeeze out of local councils. They never want to talk about the legacy of abandoned mines, tailing damns and lifeless rivers that they leave behind, all of which those rate payers will have to pay to clean up. They never want to talk about how few workers are needed to operate a mine or how many of them will be foreigners with special skills. They only want to talk about how much those lucky few will get paid.

Do the people of the North have all the facts about the low tax rates and low bonds that the mining industry pay in exchange for their right to risk water pollution and dump toxic tailings? You can bet that information is not in the prospectus. Do the people of the North know that when foreigners own the mine and the goods are exported, that the deal is done in US dollars transferred between foreign banks, and that the only money that ever arrives in NZ is the wage bill?

Mayor Brown’s claim that Northland could earn $354 million per year from increased mining activity and that tourism is of low value to the region ignores the experience of other mining regions. Even in purely economic terms this invitation to plunder doesn’t stack up.

My home in Coromandel is a clear example of how mining development has not led to wealthier communities but has destroyed parts of the environment forever. The third largest mine in New Zealand is sited in the town of Waihi, where the measures of social well being are consistently the lowest for the region and the 40 million tonnes of toxic waste from the mine cover prime farm land, forever posing a risk.

Waihi is plagued by vibration, noise and dust with the associated mental and physical effects and the resulting drop in property values. Locals will pay for maintaining this time bomb after the gold company heads back to USA.

Tourism and food production remain the sustainable base of beautiful and fertile regions not holes in the ground.

The Green Party is not opposing all forms of mining and we understand the practical need for road metal and clay quarrying in the right places. However we are horrified that tangata whenua, Te Tiriti rights, citizens consultation and sustainable planning for real prosperity are about to be sold out for the false glitter of industrial scale mining.

Published in Environment & Resource Management | Parliament by Catherine Delahunty on Thu, February 23rd, 2012   

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