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Every now and then something really surprising happens.  Yesterday was one of those days when news broke that the Government wants to open National Parks, Marine Reserves and Wildlife Sanctuaries to mining. It’s a bit like putting a brothel in a church.

You might think that the whole point to having National Parks, Wilderness Areas, Wildlife Sanctuaries and Marine Reserves is that they wouldn’t be mined. Well, that’s not what the Government thinks. Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee has announced a proposal to allow mining in these areas. Mr Brownlee seems surprised at the negative reaction he’s getting. He’s saying that there’s been a bit of a panic and that we need to calm down.  What does he expect?  I reckon most New Zealanders will be saying, “What? Mining in a National Park?  You’ve got to be kidding!”

The issue is over the boringly titled Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act. This is a list of all the places on public land – that is land owned by the “Crown” on behalf of all New Zealanders – where mining is banned.  It covers around 13% of New Zealand’s land area and some areas of sea that are in marine reserves.  Areas include parts of the Coromandel Peninsula, Scientific Reserves, Wilderness Areas and National Parks.  You can read the list of criteria here. They are New Zealand’s natural crown jewels and are very special not only for New Zealand but also the world.

Miners can already access 87% percent of New Zealand, including 60% of New Zealand’s public conservation lands.  This includes areas with very important natural values, like the Waimangaroa Valley next to Stockton Mine, that should never be mined.

In fact, in his speech, Mr Brownlee claimed that Stockton Mine was a good example of modern mining technique.  If that’s what he thinks, then we’ve got real cause for worry.  I’ve been to Stockton and seen the damage.  The local streams are polluted.  They’ve whacked off the tops of mountains and the whole place looks devastated.  Not what tourists would want to see in a National Park, I’m sure.

What’s also worrying is that Mr Brownlee also wants to allow more mining in the rest of New Zealand’s public conservation land.  Despite the fact that mining has the most privileged access of any commercial activity to public conservation land, Mr Brownlee wants to make it easier to destroy our shared natural heritage.

Lets make sure they don’t.

Update: there's a great blog over at pundit on this topic.