A total backdown

Stuff reports:

* No areas will be removed from Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act.

* The Government will continue with a proposal to add 14 areas, totalling 12,400 hectares of land, to Schedule 4.

* All areas given classifications equivalent to current Schedule 4 areas, such as national parks and marine reserves, will now automatically become part of Schedule 4.

* An aeromagnetic survey will be taken of Northland and the West Coast of the South Island to assess mineral wealth.

* Land holding Ministers (eg the Minister of Conservation in the case of in the case of public conservation land) and the Minister of Energy and Resources must now sign off on applications for access arrangements to Crown land for mineral developments.

This can only be seen as a total backdown. In fact envir0nmental protection of national parks has been increased, by having them automatically added to Section 4 in future.

Greenpeace Senior Climate Campaigner Simon Boxer said the decision was “a heartening example of people power in action”.

“This is a historic victory for the record number of New Zealanders who stood up to protect our most treasured places and for a vision of a truly sustainable and progressive 21st century economy for New Zealand,” Mr Boxer said.

It is a great victory for those who marched, signed petitions and put in submissions. I think it was the sheer number of individual submissions that probably had the biggest impact.

While The Government solves one problem with the decision, they now face the problem of whether they are serious about catching up with Australia, in light of the back down. They are fortunate that they have just announced employment law changes, as these will go some way towards mollifying sentiment that the Government is not doing enough.

There are some lessons for the Government in this, in my opinion. What were they?

  1. The proposal was over-hyped. Even the PM himself did this, by stating there would definitely be change.
  2. The discussion document was rather woeful. It didn’t make a good case for why the Government wanted to mine. It relied on merely the potential value of the minerals. I wanted to see projected jobs created, royalty increases, and tax take changes.
  3. The inclusion of Great Barrier Island was a tactical mistake. It galvanised opposition in Auckland especially. And on the island would be impossible anyway under current regional and district plans.
  4. This was one of those issues where it was not just about winning majority support from the public. It is about intensity of support. Even if 60% support mining, few supporters would have it decide their vote. However for many opponents of mining, this is an issue which would decide their vote – especially women (in my opinion)

The only real upside for the Government is that they can genuinely say, they do listen to the public, and that it is not a waste of time to response to discussion documents. But that is some minor face saving for what is an embarrassing u-turn.

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