BOOS and jeers from about 150 protestors greeted Prime Minister John Key as he entered Bathurst Resources’ new Wellington offices late yesterday.
Mr Key was there to meet the management of the Australian mining company which is planning New Zealand’s biggest open cast mine on the West Coast.
The PM and Energy and Resources Minister Phil Heatley were confronted by a crowd of environmental activists and Green Party MPs rallying against coal mining.
National MP Simon Bridges and Labour’s West Coast MP Damien O’Conner had both slipped in to the building prior to the Prime Minister’s arrival.
The Bathurst mine proposal is for the Denniston Plateau in the West Coast.
The proposed mine site is on public conservation land near the largest current opencast mining operation in New Zealand, State-owned Solid Energy’s Stockton coal mine.
Green Party Conservation spokesperson Eugenie Sage expressed her disappointment following the Prime Minister’s remarks in the House of Parliament that the Denniston mine could proceed due to historical consent.
“It’s disappointing that the Prime Minister doesn’t seem to realise that the Conservation Minister still has an access application to consider,” Ms Sage said.
“Coming here today is sending a strong signal to the Department of Conservation and the minister that the government will be approving this mine.”
Forest and Bird Conservation Advocate Nicola Toki said that the meeting was an endorsement from the Prime Minister for the destruction of public conservation land.
The Australian company would mine coal here, and then send profits overseas while New Zealanders gained a “pathetic royalty.”
“We’re not even the ones making money out of it. It’s a false economy on all fronts,” Mrs Toki said.
“The decision was made to carve off the Stockton and dig the coal under there with the proviso that they would protect the Denniston for future generations because it’s the last bit left that looks like that.
“You can’t have your cake and eat it too. This is the last bit that remains and we owe it to our kids to make sure we look after it.”
Supporters of the mine point out the economic benefits to the West Coast, with jobs and training enticing more people to stay in the region.
Bathurst wants to create 225 jobs at the Denniston site, adding an estimated $100 million to the economy.
Last year, acting Minister of Resources Hekia Parata claimed the new mine at Denniston would bring $1 billion into the New Zealand economy over the next six years.
However, those opposed to the mine say the short-term economic gains are no substitute for destroying the unique landscape and ecosystems that exist on the Denniston Plateau.
Ms Sage believes the government must recognise the passion still exists which in 2010 saw 50,000 people march up Queen Street in Auckland to protest the Government’s proposal to mine National Parks and other protected areas.
The government later backed down on their proposal, with then Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee and Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson announcing that the government “agreed in principle that significant applications to mine on public land should be publicly notified.”
In spite of this, on the first working day after the 2011 election the government announced they would not seek public consultation as to whether the Denniston mine would go ahead.
On March 27 Bathurst’s resource consent proposal faces appeals in the Environment Court from the New Zealand Forest and Bird Protection Society and the West Coast Environmental Network Inc.