Govt drags feet on pre-election conservation pledge

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage.
Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage. Photo credit: Getty.

Coromandel residents are angry the Government has not honoured a pre-election promise to permanently protect a section of conservation land from mining.

The area, south of the Kopu-Hikuai highway down to Te Aroha, is home to the world's most endangered amphibian, the Archey's frog.

The Archey's frog is one of the world's oldest frogs, and one of only four remaining native frog species in New Zealand.

Last year, representatives from the Greens and Labour accepted a 4,500-strong petition, calling for the area to be brought under Schedule Four of the Crown Minerals Act.

Schedule Four protects specific conservation land from any open cast or underground mining with significant surface operations.

Labour's pre-election conservation policy includes a promise to extend Schedule Four protection to "all the conservation land south of the Kopu-Hikuai Road to the southern boundary of the Te Aroha Ecological District".

In her Speech from the Throne last November, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced there would be no new mines on conservation land. A discussion document on the proposed policy is due to be released in September.

But a spokesperson for anti-mining group Coromandel Watchdog, Augusta Macassey-Pickard, said that won't happen fast enough.

"We've been calling for this extension for Schedule Four for the Coromandel Range for a really long time, well before the no new mine announcement. We're really mindful with the consultation coming up later in the year it could be quite easy for this to get lost in amongst that conversation."

"Mining generally degrades or destroys natural areas and the places that our unique birds, plants and insects live," said Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage in May. "It permanently changes natural features and landscapes and has significant water pollution risks."

However, she won't commit to honouring the Government's pre-election promise for specific protection for this part of the Coromandel, saying she is waiting to hear recommendations from the select committee considering last year's petition.

"It would be inappropriate for us to undertake work that presumes a specific outcome," Ms Sage told Newshub Nation.

The petition has been with the select committee since August last year.

"We respect the fact that they are a new Government and have had a lot to deal with. [But] you've made this commitment, you've had enough time now, we would like to see some action," said Ms Macassey-Pickard.

Coromandel Watchdog has begun another petition to remind Labour and the Green party of their promise and say urgent action is needed.

Ms Macassey-Pickard says that even without active mining, the tiny Archey's frogs - which only grow up to 37mm long - could be harmed by the exploration work that's already underway.

"I would really question how anybody is expecting workmen on a site who are going to be wearing safety boots, ear muffs, safety goggles and operating big machinery, how are they going to see these frogs?

"Come on, we have got to protect them now, before we lose them."

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has told the select committee much of the land in question has "high value" mineral resources.

Mining company Oceana Gold has had active mining permits on some of the land since 2003. The company operates mines in New Zealand's three largest gold fields, including Waihi.

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