Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 24, September 27, 1976.
New Zealand Green — Consolidatfd Silver Rips Apart New Zealand National Parks
New Zealand Green
Consolidatfd Silver Rips Apart New Zealand National Parks
A few days ago, the Prime Minister announced that the Government may consider schemes involving the "controlled mining" of resources contained within the boundaries of New Zealands National Parks.
The case presently in question is that of Consolidated Silver Mining Co., and their activities in the Fiordland area, but what is interesting to note is that Muldoon's comments were made about National Parks in general.
This would seem to imply that the Government's intends opening up, for massive commercial exploitation, the few remaining unspoiled natural resources we have left.
While such action may seem remote to an unaware public, it is important to point out how little protection the National Park's Act does in fact give these areas.
The main effect of the National Parks Act is to set up a National Parks Authority - which is empowered to manage those parks 'in the National interest'.
The act itself contrary to popular opinion, does not prohibit mining - or for that matter any other form of exploitation - rather it directs the Authority to formulate policy that enables such parks to be 'preserved in perpetuity for the benefit of the people of New Zealand'. The contradiction here is that, although it is the job of the Authority to preserve the parks, the government (in its wisdom of what the 'national interest' involves), may direct the Authority to support and supervise any commercial exploitation.
Mining Act Opens the Gate
Concerning mining, the most influential Act is the 1971 Mining Act, which gives carte blanche mining rights to any enterprise which has a prospector's permit.
This act was originally brought into being to facilitate the growth and development of mining in general. Its conditions make it clear that, in the case of prospector's permits being given, the company involved may utilize its claim in any means it sees fit.
It is an ill thought out piece of legislation which has, ironically, helped restrict further exploitation of the National Parks.
Prior to 1971, a prospector's licence was separate from the right to mine. Thus before a company could gain mining rights, it had to conduct thorough prospect surveys and present a realistic scheme for approval.
The right of companies to prospect National Parks, while obviously displaying intent, did not threaten the existence of the parks, and so prior to 1971 the Authority found no reason to restrict them. In fact often these surveys were of assistance; for as a Lands and Survey Department spokesman put; "The Authority is interested in the geological content of its parks - as well as its forest and animal life".
This is shown in the statistics of permit approvals given from the period of 1967-71. Of the over 160 [unclear: applications] for prospecting rights only a few were refused.
The 1971 Act puts the matter in an entirely different perspective. It is not surprising therefore, that the Authority has not granted prospecting permission for any one of the 67 applications since 1971, when such permission would effectively preclude their ability to control exploitation.
What has become a matter of increasing concern is the Government's intention to ride roughshod over the principles of preservation laid down in the National Parks Act for the sake of crude and temporary, economic gain.
A background to Consolidated Silver's participation in Fiordland reveals how tenuous the prospects of these parks surviving really is - especially in terms of a government whose sole perception of what makes a nation great is in terms of its ability to generate money.
Muldoon Linked with Consolidated Silver
Consolidated Silver Mining Co. was formed in 1968 with the purpose of exploring the feasibility of the commercial mining of metals including those held in National Parks. It is difficult to work out where the 'silver' bit came from (silver deposites in NZ being negligible), apart from affirming that it is part of some Multi-national mining conglomerate.
The plot thickens when, seeking further information, the researcher finds that Consolidated Silver's registered offices (source: 1975 business directory) is c/o Keenan, Mills, Muldoon & Browne - chartered accountants of Auckland.
Between the time of its inception and the instigation of the 1971 Mines Act, Consolidated Silver received several prospecting rights, mainly concerned with the Fiordland Area.
The Company's major find has been the discovery of large deposits of vanadium and iron oxide at Mount George, within the Mt Aspiring National Park.
In January 1972 the Company's technical director, Doug Alexander, writing in 'New Zealand Engineering' said that: "the size and significance of the deposit to New Zealand are hard to overestimate" and that the Company proposed using sophisticated smelting and 'chemical extraction' techniques which would maximize productivity.
The Company's lack of access to the technology needed for such an exercise was apparent, and soon they had solicited the financial support of a powerful Australian ally, Carpentaria Exploration Co. (a subsidiary of Mt Isa Mines) - conditional to the provision that Carpentaria took two thirds of any prospecting titles.
Nats Support Mining Scheme
The National Government of the day, though tut-tutting the extent of foreign control, actively supported the scheme in its embryo form.
It was left to the Labour Government in 1974 to accede to the scheme as proposed, and in that year they commissioned a commercial viability survey, an environmental impact report, and investigations into the involvement of New Zealand Steel.
It was this last aspect, and the demands by Labour that Government take up more than 50% of the total shareholding, that put the damper on Carpentaria's participation. The anticipated quick profit was placed in a position of dependence upon their subordination to New Zealand interests - a bane to any powerful multi-national - so they pulled out.
Thus Labour, in spite of itself, stopped a mass, foreign controlled, commercial venture succeeding in Mount Aspiring National Park - but it has set a dangerous precedent for future mining agreements.
Ever since the proposals of 1974 an enlightened conservation pressure group has acted very efficiently in reinforcing the principles of the National Parks Act.
It would appear however that Consolidated Silver has found powerful allies in Government, for despite a clear statement from Minister of Lands, Venn Young, in August that Consolidated Silver would not receive the right to mine in Fiordland, Muldoon's statement is a doubletake.
Govt Serves Mining Companies
Recent press releases indicate that the Minister's of Lands and Mines have been discussing ways in which the 1971 Act may be amended to allow such proposals as those of Consolidated Silver.
The Mines Department, with the diminution of its state responsibilities, has become in effect a service organisation for mining interests, with little interest in conservation. In fact, in a telephone conversation with a spokesman from the Department, he justified his Department's support for proposals such as Consolidated Silver's by saying that "most national parks are only National Parks by accident anyway". Such an arrogant attitude is obviously doing much to support the claims of potential exploiters.
At present, Consolidated Silver has two possible proposals under consideration.
(a) The Mount George Scheme : This scheme calls for the extensive mining (by tunnel method) of the Mount George area, with the building of an underground conveyer to carry ore to Deep Cove, from where it would be shipped. Consolidated Silver points out to conservationists that this system removes all the doubtful environmental consequences of the traditional strip-mining method, but the impact of their scheme must be placed in its proper perspective.
The amount of industrial development, support systems and living space needed for such an intensive mining operation must completely destroy the area as a National Park. The whole area would be subject to the considerations of the operation, rather than vice-versa.
The Mount George scheme involves, if it is to be given the go ahead, some ammendments to the 1971 Act. Apparently recent discussion between Venn Young and Mines Minister Holland has cleared the way for amendments to the Act. These discussions have come after "a number of misunderstandings" existing between the National Parks authority and Consolidated Silver have been recitified, at least to the satisfaction of Ministers concerned.
If the proposed amendments are made law, it will mean the end of the Mount Aspiring National Park and set an example for similar schemes in other areas.
(b) Beach Sand Utilization : This prospect involves the large scale use of ore bearing Fiordland sands. What is of concern in this case is that current interdepartmental discussion suggests that such a scheme can be accomodated under the auspices of the present Act, which may give Consolidated Silver the right to indiscriminately utililize of the sands of the fiords, and construction of any facilities it sees fit.
Ripping Off Natural Resources
The example of Consolidated Silver serves as a graphic reminder to all as to the slender line that separates the nation from being totally involved in the mechanisms of economic necessities.
Whether it is in the "national interest" to assume that the existence of Nature is simply there as potential profit; to be extracted at the whim of those in a position to "make" out of such an undertaking, is debateable.
The Government's apparent willingness to bend over backwards to help the mining interests shows that the New Zealand public is on the losing end again.
Like the Comalco debacle, it is difficult to see us benefitting from schemes that are a simple partnership between rank opportunists and overseas mining giants - fostered by a government that has lost touch with the feelings and needs of its people.
The principles that resulted in the foundation of the National Parks of today are being ignored. A serious, sincere policy towards National Parks and conservation involves more than mere lip service to the sources of ecological stability.