Mining the truth in Northland

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.

40 thoughts on “Mining the truth in Northland

  1. You haven’t said anything because you have not provided any statistical information on costs and benefits for this *particular* mining opportunity.

    We needs graphs and measurements. We know you can do right things wrong, and wrong things have been done in the past. But again that insight tells us nothing that we need to know for this particular case.

  2. The article in the bay Chronicle says Wayne Brown is chairman of the Explore Northland Minerals Group, so it’s clear where he’s coming from. Was he chair of this group when he stood for Mayor? Did Far North voters know they were electing someone so keen on promoting mining? It is disappointing that journalists don’t ask many questions and just seem to copy out press releases. For a start I’d like to know what on earth is “ethical mining”?

    Andrew- what exactly were you wanting to measure on the supposedly missing graphs? The newspaper article mentions over 10 different metals etc , so this isn’t about a “particular” mining opportunity. It is another example of mining promoters offering our country to be dug up and polluted just make a few people rich while leaving the rest of us with the mess.

  3. Viv: Really I’m just making a point on style.

    You say: “It is another example of mining promoters offering our country to be dug up and polluted just make a few people rich while leaving the rest of us with the mess.”

    Maybe! But how can I or anyone know? The arguments here need to come down to mathematical expressions.

    Everything pollutes something/somewhere to some degree. You can ultimately argue to shut down everything in the name of the environment, and that’s why we shouldn’t take arguments seriously without specifics and comprehensive perspective.

  4. We had a meeting the other night with our local community board member – he couldn’t tell us anything about this, not where, who, what, how, who benefits… – and he is generally very on the ball, not one who just sits in. He didn’t know because no-one has been told anything except that there are “exciting opportunities”. Consultation? Perhaps on minor issues when it is too late.
    Did we know that Wayne was a developer – yes, but he is essentially elected by the majority who live on the East Coast where he lives and who are part of this. He has said many times that as far as he is concerned Hokianga and the Far North (Kaitaia) are of no interest to him. He has always made it clear that he is there to pave the way for development and that he would like to get rid of the Regional Council and the FNDC become a unitary authority, so he can ‘get things done’.
    He is autocratic, undemocratic, bigoted and focused on the money, not the community or the environment. He will shut people down even in their allotted 5 minutes of presentation time (has done it to me)and take no notice of any opposing view. He behaves as though the district were his personal fiefdom or a company that he runs.

  5. We do need to consider the advantages and disadvantages of mining … it is not as simple as saying ‘no’ because there is are idealogical objections.

    Remember that increasing number of Maori are moving to Australia to work in the mining industry. Is this fragmentation of Iwi/Hapu good for the long term viability of our Tangata Whenua?

  6. Andrew- There is no mathematical formula where you put, for example, tax revenue on one side and contamination of waterways from toxic waste on the other and get a meaningful result, these items don’t have the same units, you can’t discuss them with mathematical expressions.

    “Everything pollutes something/somewhere to some degree” Ok, so you can probably measure water pollution from a gold mine and compare that mathematically to water pollution from an organic farm or tourist kayaking business. But you can not then say that because someone makes a lot more money from the gold mine then that means it is allowed to pollute more.

    The arguments here do not just come down to mathematics, the discussion must also be about ecosystems, human communities, justice, equity, health and more.

  7. “The arguments here need to come down to mathematical expressions.”

    The mining argument, Andrew?

    2 + 2 = 5.

  8. Without mining, there are no energy efficient bulbs, solar panels, wind turbines, solar water heaters, electrical appliances, electric rail, power lines, etc.

    The problem is not whether there is mining or not.

    The problem is the people who think it’s environmentally friendly to get someone else to do the mining, in some other country where they can’t see it.

    Then they hypocritically think they’re being environmentally responsible.

    When in fact they’re the exact opposite.

    They pass their environmental risk and responsibility to someone else in another country where they can’t see it.

  9. Photo-Finish; Australia is a mining giant….despite a million miles of travel there – I can’t recall ever seeing one (mine) – can I suggest that NZ is very different in a dozen different ways.
    To me the argument is Basic – do we want to churn up and sell what little earth we hold – or do we want to have people come here and be raped by the poor in a caravan park – at this time, we neither have a cake – nor the choice of eating some.
    As a young man I was offered a job mining the coal which we were then selling to the Japanese at a loss – it brought down the Bills – but then not enough to prevent carless days….why, a simple law change made their dross our wealth (2nd hand cars).
    I can’t help but think that enlightened legislation will obviate the need for our material ruin.
    I make sure (indeed have little choice) that every dollar I (dont) see goes right back into the NZ economy to be taxed over and over again – until it is indeed worthless.
    This is a problem that needs fixing by Legislation.
    Impoverishing our own people (and the current Govt. has no notion of poverty – fleets of BMW’s etc) is ruinous – Australia won’t own us Politically because we have long been an Economic Basket-Case.
    The Chinese will buy our Land – or – they could just send a hundred million Bankrolled Touristas.
    Massive change is upon us – Shorty and the Gang have no notion of what to do!

  10. “The problem is not whether there is mining or not.”

    Quite right, photonz1. No one here is arguing that it is the problem. Strawmen just waste commenters time, so why erect them?

    “The problem is the people who think it’s environmentally friendly to get someone else to do the mining, in some other country where they can’t see it.” Hey! Another photonz strawman – that’s two in one post!
    There’s no one in this discussion who thinks “it’s environmentally friendly to get someone else to do the mining, in some other country where they can’t see it.”
    Sad to say, I couldn’t find a single point of any worth in your latest comment, photonz1.
    Not a one.

  11. grenfly says “There’s no one in this discussion who thinks “it’s environmentally friendly to get someone else to do the mining, in some other country where they can’t see it.”

    Yeah right.

    There’s no one here has argued to stop mining or drilling in NZ because of the environment, but happily uses their car, computer, tv etc – which relies on mining elsewhere, often in places with much lower ernvironmental controls than here.

    They think they’re being environmentally friendly, when all they are really doing is destroying someone elses environment for their products.

    Instead of taking responsibility for their own damage, they’re passing it on to someone else in some place they can’t see.

  12. Photonz1 – most of us here are not naïve enough to think that no one will ever need to mine for any resources ever again, but there are a lot of unnecessary projects being proposed (eg Southland lignite and inviting overseas investors to come & dig up the Far North) that should be stopped.

    I am opposed to deep sea drilling but I don’t ‘happily use’ my car, I use it because we don’t yet have many practical public transport options available. I’d much prefer travelling by electrified rail transport, trams and trolley buses, or safe cycleways.
    The current consumer culture and mass production of goods designed to wear out and fall apart creates a huge demand for resources and leaves a lot of waste. There is a lot of room for improvement there.

    You are not going anywhere with the suggestion that anyone not living in a cave has no credibility in this discussion. Our current lifestyle has to change, a fact Far North Mayor Wayne Brown and others cheerleading for the mine it/drill it brigade will have to face sometime.

  13. Viv says “You are not going anywhere with the suggestion that anyone not living in a cave has no credibility in this discussion.”

    No – what I’m suggesting is there is zero credibility in people thinking they are “green” to oppose mining here, when they continually use mined products from unknown places with unknown environmental records.

    The environmental damage caused by overseas mining to make the products they use, might be much worse than if the mining was done in NZ.

    Even if the environmental damage done by a mine in NZ is say just 1% of one in Indonesia – we still hear the cry of so-called einvironmentalists of “not here”.

    When if they really wanted to help the environment, they would be promoting the mines with best practise, and blacklisting the worst ones – where ever in the world they were.

  14. Viv says “You are not going anywhere with the suggestion that anyone not living in a cave has no credibility in this discussion.”

    No – what I’m suggesting is there is zero credibility in people thinking they are “green” to oppose mining here, when they continually use mined products from unknown places that might cause far more environmental damge.

    Even if the environmental damage done by a mine in NZ is say just 1% of one in Indonesia – we still hear the cry of so-called einvironmentalists of “not here”.

    They are happy if they can have their products, even if it destroys someone elses environment, as long as it doesn’t detroy theirs – and they think that’s being green.

    When if they really wanted to help the environment, they would be promoting the mines with best practise, and blacklisting the worst ones – where ever in the world they were.

  15. Viv,

    I’d much prefer travelling by electrified rail transport, trams and trolley buses, or safe cycleways.

    Where will the mines be to dig up the iron ore, coke and limestone to manufacture steel rails.

    Where will the mines be to dig up the copper ore to make copper wire for the electric motors?

    Where will the mines be to dig up the bauxite to make aluminium for trains bodies?

    Where will the oil come from to make the nylon for the carpets and seats in the electric trains?

    Where will the steel come from for your bicycle frame? If you have a carbon fibre frame where will the oil come from to make the nylon to make the carbon fibre?

    if we ALL went on public transport, how many extra buses, trains and trams will we need?

    Where will the mines be to dig up the raw material to make the vehicles?

    Maybe a horse/oxen drawn wooden cart is the answer, no mined raw materials.

  16. (He’s a hornet, Mark)
    “No – what I’m suggesting is there is zero credibility in people thinking they are “green” to oppose mining here, when they continually use mined products from unknown places with unknown environmental records.”

    What a vacuous argument. By your reckoning, photonz1, anyone and everyone who uses or has to use products that in some way intersect with mining,and believe themselves to be green, is disqualified from opposing mining in New Zealand.
    That proposal/construct has zero credibility or validity and serves only to advertise your lack of logic around this argument. Claims you make, such as,
    “They are happy if they can have their products, even if it destroys someone elses environment, as long as it doesn’t detroy theirs – and they think that’s being green.”, lack veracity and add nothing to the discussion. Are people who ‘think they are green’ (do people ‘think they are green’?)happy if they can have their products, even if it destroys someone else’s environment’? You’re suggesting that ‘green’ thinkers are ‘happy’ knowing that their actions ‘destroy’s someone else’s environment’? Odd thinking there, photonz1. ‘They think that’s being green’ – do they indeed?
    Who, photonz1, might I ask, do you deign worthy of taking part in the debate over mining in New Zealand in opposition to some of the proposals being put at the moment, now that you’ve excluded those mentioned above? All people who benefit from mining? Does that leave anyone at all able to speak out about the local issues of mining?
    Please clarify who exactly it is you deem worthy of the role, as I’d like to check whether I pass your test.

  17. Greenfly – it seems I hit the nail on the head.

    Litle concern over your products ruining someone elses environment, as long as you can protect yours.

  18. +1 greenfly

    I guess the logical extension of photonz1’s position is that one shouldn’t buy and product from the US or China because some products are produced with prison labour, or that we shouldn’t buy food products in NZ, because some milk at some time was produced buy the Crafar’s.

  19. Yes, it is a global issue and yes Greens around the world are discussing it and acting wherever it seems wasteful, polluting, exploitative or otherwise unsustainable or unnecessary. Viv is right – our lifestyle has to change.
    Meanwhile, a mayor who just goes ahead without consultation to bring mining here without any of us really knowing what will be mined, where, how or who benefits should not be surprised if some people question the process.
    Of course we need mined products, but not at any cost and without good process.

  20. at least he’s getting paid for it!
    Fly can you slip me your E-mail address sometime….?
    Address book got fried and I’ve failed to keep track of many of NZ’s exclusively ‘Big’ rising Stars…..

    What did we have to Mine again??? Coal, lignite, more coal
    Topped up with rock soil and
    Coal – ah
    Just don’t let them Pakeha’s use our Water ay?

    cheers Mark

  21. Done, Mark. Hope to swap notes soon.

    Lignite is a poorly understood substance. It is in fact, sequestered carbon, the best-practice aim of the mining industry and simple to achieve – leave it in the ground, untouched.
    Somebody tell them, quick!

  22. photonz1 – repeating an empty claim doesn’t give it substance. If in fact you have a point to make, how about re-framing it so that it contains logic.

  23. Gerrit – regarding your transport questions – the mines that supply those materials are already in operation. I say, don’t begin new ones, as the effect of releasing, say, lignite, will significantly imperil our future. Let’s get clever with our future technologies. Reverting to primitive coal burning makes those who tout the idea seems like troglodytes. Clever minds can re-envisage uses for existing materials that are sustainably produced. Spider web has tremendous tensile strength. Bamboo is a remarkable material for building frames of all sorts. Let’s get cleverer!

  24. Funny to hear Gerrit and Photo, weeping crocodile tears, over mining when they are advocates of globalisation.
    Cheap imports from China and Asia. Gerrit and Photo are happily exporting our manufacturing pollution to countries who are cheaper, at least partly, because of laxer environmental regulation.

  25. Gregor says “I guess the logical extension of photonz1′s position….”

    Why is it that whenever someone uses the words like “logical extention” you know that thay have made up –
    1/ something that was never said
    2/ something that was never intended
    3/ something that has nothing to do with logic
    4/ an arguement that has been taken to a reducuulous extreme

    You can guarantee it – every time.

  26. And yet we sense that Gregor is on to something. He draws our attention to the faults of your argument and you feel exposed by that.
    Aside from all that revelation, we marvel at your use of the rarely-used word ‘reducuulous’, which I suspect you picked up from watching Harry Potter –
    absurdum reducuulousum!

  27. Kerry

    Gerrit and Photo are happily exporting our manufacturing pollution to countries who are cheaper, at least partly, because of laxer environmental regulation.

    You talk rubbish again.

    People were simply pointing out that to particiapte in the industrial environment we have today requires mining.

    If you are happy to participate in todays industrial environement you have to accept that polution is a fact of life SOMEWHERE in the world.

    We happily use products made from raw materials that are mined overseas but dont want to see mining here.

    That copper you use in the electric motors comes from a place like this

    http://www.demotix.com/news/water-pollution-romanian-copper-mine

    That steel you use in your car, boat, train comes a place like this

    http://lakesuperiorminingnews.net/2010/01/25/cliffs-cited-for-extensive-minnesota-iron-mining-pollution/

    The choise is simple. Stop using industrial products and we can stop mining.

    But dont keep on about wanting (as Viv requested in an earlier comment) more public transport in the way of trains, buses, bicycles, etc. without also allowing mining somewhere in the world.

    I would have thought the Gareth Hughes request for development and export of green technologies would include non-poluting mining methods and technologies.

    Funny to hear Gerrit and Photo, weeping crocodile tears, over mining when they are advocates of globalisation.

    Again more rubbish.

    Have been for ever an exponent of local production (heck my business depends on it – 80% export based an all).

    Greenfly/Robert

    While we continue to use mined overseas products to above examples of polluting, mining will continue.

    it is a sad fact of life in NZL that we have so few investment dollars that a proven (pilot plant fully operational) golden opportunities such as recovery of Titania Dioxide from mined ironsand residue goes begging.

    Worth a read

    http://business.newzealand.com/northamerica/en/invest-in-new-zealand/petroleum-and-minerals/

    Alternative supplies such as bamboo for scaffolding instead of 50mm steel pipes is an option. Be interesting to see the safety manual on that one!

  28. It’s written in Mandarin.

    Gerrit, yes, mining is essential to maintain out modern society. I think we are all on board with that. In fact, it goes without saying, so I puzzle at the insistence on repeating the message. I thought those speaking against mining here were talking about specific instances only, not mining in its totality. For example, I oppose the proposed mining of lignite at Mataura for the reason that it will worsen the rate and severity of climate change. That doesn’t mean I despise and oppose every mine in existence. To argue, as some are, that unless one eschews all benefits that flow from mined materials, one must not criticize any mining at all, is ludicrous. That may not be waht you are doing, Gerrit, but some are. It does irk me however, that the examples given by those protagonists; we need fuel for our vehicles/gold for our phones and so on, don’t factor in the blatantly obvious factor of excessive use that we are unnecessarily involved in. Seeing the number of New Zealand children that have cell phones, for example, top of the line and regularly replaced, super-functioned and cast aside in favour of the next model, does not support, in my view, the argument that we shouldn’t criticize the mining industry/phenomenon because we need such products that issue forth from it. There is little debate about controlling mining by controlling consumption.
    As for your NZ examples, I for one would be far more comfortable if we were to mine a substance that was: vital to our well-being, able to be extracted with minimal damage to the environment and didn’t affect the climate. Dirty coal under top-quality Mataura farmland doesn’t fit that model, to my mind. Nor does drilling for oil in the deep and tempestuous waters off-shore of our southern coast.

  29. The current consumer culture and mass production of goods designed to wear out and fall apart creates a huge demand for resources and leaves a lot of waste. There is a lot of room for improvement there.

    Excellent point Viv. Outstanding in fact. This is the culture promoted by the right, glorified by them…. and demanded by the banks which own them.

  30. As well as the above, huge amounts of minerals that are discarded (in dead cars, whiteware, computers etc etc) are not recycled, though they could be.

    To get back to the original topic, the big concern of many up here is the lack of information and of good process. The mayor is already off in Canada selling us out without having had any discussions about what minerals there may be, where they are, what they are for or any other aspect of this potentially huge change in development. He has said that tourism doesn’t work, dismisses farming and has no interest in whatever else people might do or want to do. Many people have been involved in District Plans over the years, but all that input is being ignored.

    If you are talking about resources that are not being utilised, then the many sewage schemes whose nutrients pollute our waters instead of enriching our soils are a case in point.

    Those of us who want to see this done differently are shouted down and told it is too expensive – 19th century methods are ok with Mr Brown. One direct result of this attitude meant that shellfish was off the menu at Waitangi last year.

    Keeping farm effluent out of the waterways is also considered too hard – the Regional Council is making an effort to support farmers to fence and replant, but Mayor Brown wants to get rid of the NRC too.

    There are many other kinds of resource than the mineral sort – and the majority of people outside the Bay of Islands understand that. Pity that that concentration of wealthy incomers does not.

  31. They are happy if they can have their products

    No Photonz. You too Gerrit… though I think you understand better.

    We live in a culture that is not of our choosing, nor can anyone survive well in this one by fighting it as an individual. You, in your wisdom, appear to require the culture to remain unchanged, and imagine we agree with that because we participate. Yet you fear our ascendance because you know that we WOULD change it, possibly too quickly.

    There are several issues here.

    …to sell the minerals of Te Tai Tokerau/Northland to foreign miners…

    If we sell IRREPLACEABLE resources to other people (and the stuff hauled out of our ground qualifies as irreplaceable, and non-renewable… and the process is unsustainable as the resources are finite). We had better get a damned good price. I doubt we would. Not with this mob in charge.

    Then there is the risk/residue/tailings/safety and other detritus of the extraction process, whatever mineral is in question.

    This IS NOT addressed properly by this government. It is ideologically impossible for them to address it properly. The risks of deep-ocean drilling would make it unconsentable on any property actually in New Zealand. This government thinks it is a BRILLIANT idea. The entire arrangement by which we send someone to flog off resources to foreign mining interests is a misrepresentation of some form. Either it is a misrepresentation to the potential buyers that we are an easy and inexpensive place for them to dump the waste of their operations or it is a misrepresentation to the NZ people that the waste and risk will be handled properly.

    We all know that governments lie. The only question is WHO is being lied to.

    Right wing apologists here seem to think that this is just a knee-jerk reaction to mining, when it is in fact a kick against the establishment that thinks it is OK to lie and pollute and not pay for the destruction of the commons just because the government of the day is too stupid to imagine that there are consequences to that destruction.

  32. Gerrit asked:
    “Where will the oil come from to make the nylon for the carpets and seats in the electric trains?”

    This is New Zealand. We will use wool for our carpets and seat covers.

    And I am sure that there are plenty of substances that could be charred to produce the carbon fibres required for light weight bicycle frames, etc. However I am also sure that the petrochemical industry can find ways of using alternative feedstocks for plastics including bio-oils and/or wood byproducts.

    Trevor.

  33. The thing that interests me is that some years ago in Auckland Wayne Brown was the chairman on the DHB that did not renew the contract for Diagnostic Medlab and the contract was given to Labtests. It was a drawn out debacle which has left Aucklanders with a much reduced pathology service with some people saying it reminds them of the hours of queuing required in Britain’s NHS. Comparing the two scenarios(mining and community health contract) there are the same themes of conflict of interest and the best interests of the citizens being sold out in order to profit a few very wealthy insiders. How did this guy get elected?
    Anyone who thinks we need to create more mines in New Zealand needs to go for a walk in the bush. The most long-term economically valuable thing we have in this country is the beauty of our natural environment. It will keep increasing in value because it becomes more rare every single day on this planet due to de-forestation, habitat destruction, urban sprawl, over-population etc… Farmland is also becoming much more scarce on a world-wide scale and to ruin good food-producing land is just plain stupid and also economically stupid in the long term. Whether other countries choose to mine or not is a red herring. We are only able to vote here.

  34. Mr Brown also was a very controversial DEO of the Gisborne Health Board as well as the NOrthland one. How did he get elected – he spins a good story and the majority of voters live on the East Coast where he lives. He tried to move the whole district council to Kerikeri (to a privately-owned building in which he had an interest) but eventually was forced to back down and moved only 50 of them. In saying this, I don’t think he is actually trying to destroy the place, he just has no time for any other point of view but his own and that is all about money. He doesn’t believe in consultation and considers most people stupid if they value other things besides money. I’ve even had rational discussions with him in the past – he is not evil incarnate, just arrogant and single-minded. The wealthy east coasters like him and support him.

  35. Ha!Janine, it’s so interesting when you say he’s not evil incarnate just values only money… You’re too nice.

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