Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, Nanaia Mahuta face-off over New Zealand's approach to deep-sea mining

A debate in Parliament over New Zealand's approach to deep-sea mining caused a face-off between two MPs - and the Speaker had to get involved.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Nanaia Mahuta was answering questions from Green Party MP Eugenie Sage on whether she was satisfied with advice she received last year from ministry officials that recommended against supporting a global moratorium on all deep-sea mining.

As she answered, she explained that she was satisfied and her focus was on working with the International Seabed Authority (ISA). Through later questioning, she said how there were differing views in the Pacific on deep-sea mining and New Zealand doesn't take a position for or against it within the jurisdiction of other Pacific Island countries' international waters.

It was when Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer began questioning Mahuta on whether she was prepared for New Zealand to be "complicit in giving the green light for deep-sea mining" in the Pacific, even though scientists have warned of unprecedented environmental destruction, where it started heating up.

Mahuta said New Zealand has acted consistently and in line with its own domestic approach for high environmental standards.

"We want to ensure that we continue to advocate for a robust mining code that provides for high environmental standards, as I've said. [We want to ensure] that we signal that New Zealand will vote against a mining code that does not provide for the effective protection of the marine environment, as required under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)."

She added that the Government will advocate for additional environmental scientific expertise in the ISA to build that body of knowledge and that they will continue to develop coalitions with states on the ISA council that share New Zealand's concerns on environmental protection.

Ngarewa-Packer then asked Mahuta what her response is to indigenous leaders who have called for a moratorium on deep-sea mining in the Pacific.

"What I will say is that by advocating for higher environmental standards through the ISA is a legitimate pathway to ensure that there is a framework to protect the marine environment, and establishing a mining code will give effect to that high environmental standard," she replied.

But when Ngarewa-Packer questioned how Mahuta justifies the Government's position to communities in New Zealand and across the Pacific who will face "decades of expensive and time-consuming litigation" to protect their seas as a result of Aotearoa "supporting deep-sea mining in the Pacific", Speaker Trevor Mallard had to get involved.

He said it was "strictly an out of order supplementary", but added Mahuta could answer anyway.

She rejected the second part of the question because "it is simply not true".

"By participating in the ISA to ensure that there is advocacy for environmental protections and high standards in the marine environment, and in the setting of a mining code, that will set a threshold that is not currently there, that is consistent with UNCLOS, and that will give greater protections than are already being experienced across the Pacific."

Ngarewa-Packer then asked the Speaker which part was incorrect, to which he replied: "If the member had listened to the answer she would have known."

The final question Ngarewa-Packer asked was if Mahuta would advocate for a moratorium or ban on seabed mining domestically and internationally to prevent such litigation, meet New Zealand's international climate commitments, and protect local fisheries and ecosystems.

Mahuta replied that the position New Zealand is taking in relation to its participation in the ISA is "absolutely consistent with our domestic position".

It comes as a petition signed by over 35,000 New Zealanders was delivered to Parliament on Wednesday, calling on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to ban seabed mining in Aotearoa.

Kiwis Against Seabed Mining (KASM) and Greenpeace Aotearoa presented the petition to Sage and Ngarewa-Packer, saying seabed mining should be banned to protect the health of the ocean "that connects and nourishes us".