Government taken to task over mining permits

By Dene Mackenzie

Mt Rochfort, on the Denniston Plateau above Westport and adjacent to coal-mining permits held by Bathurst Resources, where mining has been suspended because of lacklustre global coal prices. Photo / Craig Potton
Mt Rochfort, on the Denniston Plateau above Westport and adjacent to coal-mining permits held by Bathurst Resources, where mining has been suspended because of lacklustre global coal prices. Photo / Craig Potton

The Government will be relieved Christmas is coming, as it faces increasing criticism from all sides this week.

The lack of honeymoon period is startling given the popularity of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. But with the formation of a left-leaning Government came great expectations.

Greenpeace, which railed against the former National-led government, is leading the criticism on the Government's plans to expand the fossil fuel issue by issuing new permits, which could undermine the new Climate Commission before it gets started.

The Government will start a public consultation phase in May next year and a Zero Carbon Bill will be introduced into Parliament by next October.

Greenpeace climate campaigner Kate Simcock said the first move was the first climate change-related action Parliament had seen for more than a decade.

However, the most immediate climate action the Government needed to take was to stop the expansion of the fossil fuel industry by not issuing new permits.

"It makes no sense to outline legislation and a commission to transform New Zealand into net carbon zero by 2050, and then issue new oil and gas exploration permits which could see us spewing forth carbon pollution for decades to come.''

If Ms Ardern believed climate change was New Zealand's "nuclear-free moment'', her Government must be bold and brave and take a stand against one of the most powerful industries in the world, Ms Simcock said.

The Coal Action Network Aotearoa said yesterday it was not too late for the Government to stop the Te Kuha opencast mine on the West Coast.

The Government had only just joined the "powering past coal'' initiative and had been very clear about new mines on conversation land, network spokeswoman Cindy Baxter said.

There were strong reasons for Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage and Energy Minister Megan Woods to refuse access for coal miners to rip off the top of a mountain at Te Kuha, in the Mt Rochfort conservation area, home to the great spotted kiwi and other endangered creatures and plants.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw had implied some projects, such as Te Kuha, were too far advanced for the Government to stop, but he was wrong, Ms Baxter said.

"This is precious conservation land and this is a new coal mine. It is certainly not too late for the Government to put its foot down and refuse access to an opencast mine.

"We wonder who has been bending the Government's ear to convince them otherwise.''

Council of Trade Unions secretary Sam Huggard was worried people working in New Zealand did not realise how much their livelihoods were at risk from climate change.

The Stocktake Report from the Climate Change Adaptation Working Group, released by the Government last week, showed working people had not been asked about climate change.

"I think a lot of Kiwis will be horrified to know our biggest employing sectors, like primary industries and tourism, are about to have a radical shake-up. It's reasonable New Zealanders need time to process the enormous impact climate change will have on their families and livelihoods.''

The previous government left unions entirely out of the equation when preparing the report, Mr Huggard said.

As a result, there was a lack of focus on the climate impacts on employment, incomes, careers and the readiness of working people.

Unions were ready to work with the Government on a plan for a just transition that protected incomes and gave working people the skills they needed to future-proof their jobs, he said.

Federated Farmers is calling for the Government to get on with its inquiry on local government funding.

The Labour-NZ First coalition agreement included a pledge to hold a public inquiry to investigate the drivers of local government costs and its revenue base, Federated Farmers president Katie Milne said.

And the inquiry could not happen soon enough.

Analysis included in the 2017 rates report sent to federation members last week showed a continuing trend of local government rates rapidly outstripping inflation.

From 2007-17, the Consumers Price Index - the official measure of inflation - went up 21%. The local government cost index - which councils said was a fairer reflection of their costs pressures - went up 29%.

Both were dwarfed by the 71% hike in local authority rates and charges, Mrs Milne said.

"The population in the same decade went up 13% and while that's more infrastructure and services to provide, it's also more people to share the rates burden.''

Rates based on land and improvement values could have little or no bearing on the level of service councils delivered to families, she said.

- Otago Daily Times

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