NZ Election 2020: ACT supports mining on low-value conservation land to fund 'real conservation where it counts'

ACT is voicing support for mining on conservation land, but only that which is deemed low-value, to fund and provide more support for conservation land valued highly. 

It's part of ACT's new energy and resources policy, in which the party led by Epsom MP David Seymour is promising to repeal the Zero Carbon Act, the Emissions Trading Scheme and the ban on new offshore oil and gas exploration permits. 

"ACT will develop the resources to power New Zealand's economic recovery while requiring mining companies to undertake significant biodiversity enhancements," Seymour said on Monday. 

He said 600,000 Kiwis have moved across the ditch because resources have made Australia wealthier, producing more job opportunities, better infrastructure, education and healthcare.

"Meanwhile, our Government is preventing us from taking advantage of our wealth by banning offshore oil and gas exploration and promising to ban new mines on conservation land," Seymour added. 

ACT wants to give companies confidence to invest in New Zealand by introducing a streamlined consenting process for resource projects and land access, with requirements for applications to be decided on in fewer than 12 months.

Seymour said debates about mining have failed to distinguish between high and low-value conservation land, and that by opening low-value conservation land for development, the Government could free up the resources for conservation work "where it counts".

He said companies would be required to put up hefty bonds - or legal agreements - to cover the risk of unforeseen events and final closure. Restoration would be undertaken not at the end of the mine's life, but progressively.

Companies would also be required to make investments to improve biodiversity.

ACT deputy leader Brooke van Velden and leader David Seymour.
ACT deputy leader Brooke van Velden and leader David Seymour. Photo credit: Getty

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promised to end mining on conservation land when she took office, but new mining activities have been approved across more than 150,000 hectares of public conservation land since 2017. 

Ardern said last week the Government is still working to differentiate between conservation and stewardship land which is why the new permits have been issued. 

Stewardship land makes up about a third of Department of Conservation land and is a kind of holding pen for conservation land that is yet to be assessed for its values. It is not as highly protected as conservation land.

ACT's energy and resources spokesperson Simon Court said the Government "dropped a wrecking ball" on the oil and gas industry by banning new offshore oil and gas exploration permits without warning. 

He said natural gas is vital in the short to medium-term to support a transition away from coal, because it's cheaper and quicker to bring on stream than new hydropower.

"ACT would repeal the ban on new offshore oil and gas exploration permits to give industry the confidence to invest and sustain the high-value jobs we are at serious risk of losing while we transition away from coal," he said. 

ACT would also repeal the Zero Carbon Act - which every party except ACT voted for - because ACT thinks it gives too much power to the Climate Change Minister and holds New Zealand to different expectations than its partners. 

"The law will force us to make significantly deeper emissions cuts than our trading partners and will push economic activity to other countries with lower environmental standards," Court said. 

"We would repeal the Zero Carbon Act and the Emissions Trading Scheme and introduce a no-nonsense climate change plan which ties New Zealand's carbon price to the prices paid by our top five trading partners."

The National Party voted for the Zero Carbon Act but promised to let the Climate Change Commission decide on a methane reduction target, because the current target of 24-47 percent reduction by 2050 is considered too high.