Land Information Minister Eugenie Sage says she will now take environmental sustainability issues into account when considering applications for the overseas purchase of land. The Minister has recently turned down an application by Oceana Mining to purchase a dairy farm to use to store tailings from a proposed new development at its Martha mine on its Waihi site.
She was asked by National MP, David Bennett when she had concluded that the acquisition of the land would enable more mining and therefore more emissions, which could encumber New Zealand’s transition to a net zero emissions economy, would this new test be applied to other applications to the Overseas Investment Office.
Sage: “The test is one of substantial and identifiable benefit to New Zealand. I considered that in the context of what is a sustainable economic benefit. So, yes, potentially, whether it contributes to carbon emissions and our net zero target could be considered.”
(The Minister’s office have asked POLITIK to clarify that she would continue to consider each application on a case by case basis.)
The Minister’s decision means that the Martha Mine will now close in 2028. The acquisition of the dairy farm and the ability to store tailings there would add another nine years to the life of the mine which provides about 250 fulltime jobs and employs another 100 contractors.
Sage says in her decision to reject the application that the proposal does not create any new jobs; it simply preserves existing ones.
If the mine has to close in 2028, then there would be about 30 to 40 jobs involved with rehabilitation and post-closure monitoring for three to five years.
“That provides time for the affected community to attract alternative investments in sustainable enterprises and plan for any workforce change that might occur,” she said in her decision.
“ An independent economics assessment on Project Martha, provided with Oceana Gold’s application, noted that “with sufficient preparation and planning, likely negative effects on local employment … can be reduced”.
“A period of around nine years is likely to be sufficient to establish new employment opportunities, particularly if New Zealand continues to transition to a low-emissions economy.”
But Labour’s Associate Finance Minister, David Clark, took a different view.
His decision said he had regard to the annual average salary of current Waihi mine employees, which was $120,000, compared with the median personal income of $23,10024 in the Hauraki District.
“Accordingly, the Associate Minister would give the jobs factor a high weighting,” his decision said.
Clark also pointed out that the exports from the mine would earn the same amount of money as 1610 years of exports from the dairy farm.
Where Ministers disagree on an Overseas Investment Office application, the application must be turned down which was what happened in this case.
Sage told Bennett that the decision was about whether the purchase of the land would create a substantial and identifiable benefit. In this case, it’s turning productive land into a site for the long-term storage of hazardous waste—that is not a benefit.
“In the context of sustainable economic development, the risk of major tailings impoundments, which change productive, food-producing land into a permanent site for the storage of hazardous waste, is not a substantial and identifiable benefit. It creates significant risks, both economic and environmental,” she said.