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'Shameless profit' - Māori Party co-leader wants seabed mining banned in NZ

As the Supreme Court wraps up a civil case about a company’s application to mine off Taranaki, a Māori Party co-leader is calling for a ban on seabed mining in New Zealand. 

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Debbie Ngarewa-Packer says the harms to the environment outweigh any economic benefits. Source: Breakfast

Debbie Ngarewa-Packer told TVNZ1’s Breakfast today the civil case reflected the fact multiple governments “aren’t listening to mana whenua” who lived off the ocean.

“We could see that this big decision to desecrate our moana was happening without our input,” she said. 

“And no matter what we said - we went to the decision-making committee, we've been to every court in our nation, we've done everything the right way - our aspirations, our needs are still ignored.”

In April 2017, mining company Trans-Tasman Resources applied for consent to dig up 50 million tonnes of iron-rich sand each year for 35 years off the South Taranaki Coast. 

The company said the project would create 300 jobs and add $160 million to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). 

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) granted the company consent on its second attempt, but the decision was opposed by numerous iwi, conservation, fishing and environmental groups.

A civil case was then taken to the High Court, then heard in the Court of Appeal. 

The High Court ruled the EPA took too narrow an interpretation of the law, and that it was inconsistent with an approach under the Exclusive Economic Zone Act. The Court of Appeal upheld the judgment. 

The Act states consenting authorities should err on the side of caution and environmental protection if they were not sure about a project’s impact. 

In April, Trans-Tasman Resources lodged a notice of appeal to the Supreme Court. It sought the reversal of the Court of Appeal's decision.

Ngarewa-Packer said she was “quietly optimistic” the Supreme Court would rule in favour of iwi and environmental groups’ position. But, if it didn't, she said the groups would continue fighting. 

She said Trans-Tasman Resources had overstated the project’s economic benefits. 

“They’re looking to take the mineral, put it on a storage ship, and go off to market,” she said.

“So, the time within Aotearoa is minimal.

“It’s not a shovel-ready project. The meager economic benefits way outweighs the harm.”

Iwi around Taranaki had lots of experience with the mineral sector because of its location, Ngarewa-Packer said.

“We’ve seen the best practicing, and we’ve seen the worst. TTR are right up there with the worst with no evidence.

“The only agenda, which by the way came through National’s period, was to push through for shameless profit at the cost of harming our environment.

“How do you replenish the seabed … after 35 years of desecration?”

She said there were other ways to create jobs, such as working to clean up the country’s waterways.