A Green minister finds favour with farming – in this case, to torpedo gold mining plans

It took them a few days to reflect on things, after Land Information Minister Eugenie Sage declined Oceana Gold’s application to purchase land adjacent to its Waihi mine under the Overseas Investment Act.

But Straterra, New Zealand’s minerals sector industry organisation, has publicly expressed disappointment and contends the decision was based explicitly on her anti-mining ideology.

“The application was declined by the Land Information Minister apparently on the grounds that the land would be better retained for dairying.”

If this be so, Sage will have been ideologically conflicted.

The Greens are notoriously hostile to mining – but when did they last come out in favour of dairying?

Much more obviously, the Straterra statement raises concerns about the approval process.

Associate Finance Minister David Clark gave his consent to the application.

He said he believed the proposed investment is likely to create substantial and identifiable benefits.

But under the Overseas Investment Act, consent is granted only if both Ministers give approval.

Sage, in effect, had the power of veto.

Straterra notes this is the first time since the passage of the Overseas Investment Act in 2005 that the two decision-making ministers have made different decisions.

It also contends the decision is a bad one for a country that values fair decisions based on science and evidence, not ideology, and is a major setback for the industry, for the local and regional economy and for all fair-minded New Zealanders.

“This decision is further evidence, if such was required, that Hon Eugenie Sage cannot be allowed to continue with portfolios where she has a history of activism.”

Good luck with that.

Mind you, Richard Harman – writing for Politik – reckons there is growing frustration among some Ministers with the Minister of Land Information.  This ”may see pressure for her to lose that portfolio after the Cabinet reshuffle expected after the Budget”.

Harman quoted a senior Government Minister who said Sage had become “too dogmatic”.

The industry statement goes on to say that, since purchasing the Waihi gold business from Newmont in 2015,

“ … it is apparent that OceanaGold has spent tens of millions of dollars at Waihi on exploration and development. That investment has been successful in discovering significant additional gold resources – Sage’s decision negates that investment.

“Without the land, mining will cease in 2028. With the land a new tailings dam will be built and, subject to satisfying all relevant regulations, mining will continue to 2036, and likely well beyond as additional resource discovery allows.”

Straterra estimates that, beyond 2030, more than 350 jobs are at stake as well as export revenue of around $200 – 300 million a year.

This can only assume all sorts of things will happen – and/or not happen – over the next 10 years.

No matter. Straterra intends reviewing the ministerial decision in detail but says it finds it hard to imagine how those projected jobs and associated taxes and expenditure in the local and regional community would not stack up as a ‘substantial and identifiable benefit’ when compared with what can be earned by farming the relatively small area in question.

“No wonder the local community is up and arms about this as evidenced by comments from Hauraki District Mayor, John Tregidga.

But there is strong local opposition, too.

Coromandel Watchdog of Hauraki welcomed the nobbling of Oceana Gold’s plan to purchase an area of rural land for a new tailings dam.

“We agree with Minister Sage that there are far better uses for our productive land than to be used as a dump for toxic waste,” says Augusta Macassey-Pickard, spokesperson for the group.

“The existing dam was built on productive farmland, that’s more than enough area dedicated to storing this toxic sludge.”

Coromandel Watchdog has persistently argued that one of the most negative elements of industrial gold mining is the toxic legacy left, including the vast stores of toxic waste from the extraction process.

In the press statement announcing the ministerial decision, Sage and Clark said they disagreed on whether applicant met the test in the legislation to provide “substantial and identifiable benefit” to New Zealand.

The Overseas Investment Act determines that when Ministers form different views on an application it is declined.

 Minister Sage does not believe using productive rural farmland to establish a long term tailings reservoir of mining waste creates substantial and identifiable benefits.

 Associate Minister Clark believes that the proposed investment is likely to create substantial and identifiable benefits.

In a separate decision, the Overseas Investment Office approved Oceana Gold’s application to buy four residential properties in central Waihi.

The OIO has released information about the decision on the LINZ website.

The decision summary for the application can be viewed here.

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