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Environment Magazine September/October 2008


November-December 2011

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The Myth and Reality of Sustainable New Zealand: Mining in a Pristine Land

New Zealanders took to the streets by the tens of thousands on May 1, 2010, to protest a government proposal to open national parks and other scenic areas to mining exploration. News reports called the estimated 40,000 marchers in Auckland, the nation's largest city, the biggest public demonstration in New Zealand in a generation. In a country with an estimated population of 4.4 million, it was an overwhelming display of public sentiment. Faced with widespread opposition, the government less than three months later backed away, at least temporarily, from its proposal to allow exploration and mineral extraction in those scenic areas. But the debate over whether such development will undercut New Zealand's pristine and sustainable image continues. This article examines the government's original rationale for promoting additional mining; identifies the scenic reserves that would be at risk; assesses the reaction and roots of the public opposition; and assesses the political implications of the 2010 decision. It also probes weaknesses of the development model, which appears incompatible with attempts to attract overseas visitors by promoting a pristine environment. Finally, it offers alternative strategies for New Zealand's future that do not rely on intensive resource extraction. It also provides lessons to other developing nations for balancing these two economic sectors.

Caption: A crowd estimated at more than 40,000 marched against the New Zealand government's proposal to mine thousands of acres of prime conservation land, including national parks.

Caption: A crowd estimated at more than 40,000 marched against the New Zealand government's proposal to mine thousands of acres of prime conservation land, including national parks.

Sustainability was incorporated in this and other acts but courts ruled that it must be interpreted broadly and balance environmental and economic benefits.

New Zealand's Green Image: Reality or Greenwash?

New Zealand projects the image of a country that is “100% pure” or “100% natural,” due in part to the success of The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy (2001–2004), which was filmed in New Zealand. The films show beautiful landscapes that appear to be untouched, with little environmental degradation or destruction of ecosystems. The reality is clearly different.

The North Island's landscape is not only highly developed agriculturally (dairy cows, sheep, and orchards) but also scarred with large clear-cut areas and monoculture forests. Meanwhile, groundwater depletion on the South Island to support agricultural uses is a serious concern. In addition, offshore oil drilling has potential to detrimentally affect coastal ecosystems.

The movie trilogy helped to create an image of New Zealand as a country more committed to protecting the environment than other developed nations. Indeed, New Zealand has succeeded in branding itself as 100% natural through a global advertising campaign.1 However, it can be argued that New Zealand's green image is overinflated, a form of “greenwash,” given the actual conditions and recent environmental politics.

The campaign appears successful, as tourism has increased from 1.6 million visitors in 1999, when the campaign started, to 2.5 million visitors in 2010, or an increase of almost 40%, with an average yearly growth rate of 4%. However, tourism had started to increase dramatically prior to the 100% natural campaign tourism. Tourism increased 60% during the 1990s from just under a million tourists at the start of the decade for an average yearly growth rate of 6%. Currently, the global recession has resulted in negative yearly growth of tourism from Australia, Europe, and the United States, but this has been offset by dramatic increases from Asian countries, led by China, which had, for example, an increase of tourist visits of 20% in 2010 alone.

Another non–tourism-based measure of New Zealand's relative standing as an environmentally sustainable country is the Yale–Columbia University Environmental Performance Index (EPI). In 2006 New Zealand ranked first out of 133 countries and has remained relatively high since. New Zealand ranked seventh in 2008 and fifteenth in 2010.2

New Zealand Environmental Laws and Conservation Lands

The popular image of New Zealand would lead one to believe that the country has a long history of strict and well-enforced environmental laws. However, modern environmental laws and the establishment of agencies to protect lands from development are relatively recent. The 1986 New Zealand Environment Act established the Ministry for the Environment (MOE).3 The Ministry for the Environment in New Zealand has no statutory responsibility to enforce laws because this authority was devolved to regional governments and the environmental court, leaving the MOE as a policy ministry. Some functions are being recentralized in a new environmental protection agency (EPA). National legislation provides a framework for environmental protection, and regional governments, based on watersheds, determine the specific requirements and associated penalties for noncompliance.

The establishment of the Ministry for the Environment was complemented by the 1987 Conservation Act, which established the Department of Conservation (DOC). This act is an important environmental statute, including protection of natural resources. The DOC manages all conservation lands in various categories. The Resource Management Act of 1999 was to be guided by the principles of sustainable management. Wheen, however, argues that environmental law has long facilitated resource development to promote economic growth, and that despite recent changes; the law remains very accommodating in this respect. She argues that high-sounding principles such as sustainability are defined so loosely that they lack impact. In particular, the Resource Management Act (RMA) of 1991, while promoting sustainable management, does not provide checks against development and resource exploitation.4

Sustainability was incorporated in this and other acts but courts ruled that it must be interpreted broadly and balance environmental and economic benefits, rather than providing uncompromising environmental standards.5 Consequently, even today in New Zealand there are generally no legal limits on the amount of pollutants that can be put on land or in the water, though the RMA does require consents for discharge to air, land, or water, which does set limits on discharge. Nor is there is an endangered species act. The protection of particular species is dependent on the willingness and the ability of the DOC to do so within a changing political and economic background.

Caption: Figure 1: Map of conservation lands in New Zealand

Caption: Figure 1: Map of conservation lands in New Zealand

New Zealand's National Parks and Other Conservation Lands

A major part of the growth in tourism has been based on visits to national parks and other protected conservation lands in the country. Tongariro National Park in 1894 was the first national park in New Zealand. Other national parks followed, and in 1952, the acts governing the various national parks were consolidated and then reshaped into the present legislation, the National Parks Act of 1980.

The National Parks Act of 1980 states that the lands remain “as far as possible in their natural state” in perpetuity, because they are “so beautiful, unique or scientifically important that their preservation is in the national interest.” The parks are preserved “for their intrinsic worth and for the benefit, use and enjoyment of the public.” The National Parks Act also states “No area of land or foreshore included in any park shall be excluded from that park, except by Act of Parliament.”6 Figure 1 shows the distribution of the country's national parks.

National parks are not the only types of protected or conservation lands in New Zealand. There are many other categories of protected areas of varying sizes. Today, these “crown” or public lands comprise more than 30% of New Zealand's land area. Many of these lands, as in other countries, were taken, purchased, or stolen (depending upon differing historical perspectives) from the various Maori tribes who were living on the islands before they were colonized. Today, the input of the Maori in managing conservation lands has been very limited, although the Conservation Act has a strong reference to the Treaty of Waitangi, the 1840 compact between the British Crown and various Maori chiefs.

Caption: Opito Bay on the Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand.

Caption: Opito Bay on the Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand.

Caption: Mt. Ruapehu in Tongariro National Park.

Caption: Mt. Ruapehu in Tongariro National Park.

Key Government's Proposal

In 2008 New Zealanders turned away from the center-left Labour government of three-term Prime Minister Helen Clark. In choosing the conservative National Party led by John Key, voters rejected the social activism of Clark's government. The National Party won 45% of the seats in the House of Representatives to Labour's 34%, with minor parties claiming the remaining 21%. (Because of New Zealand's mixed-member proportional system, the National Party actually has 48% of the seats in the 122-member House.)7 Key forged a coalition with the Maori Party to form a government, a partnership that some Maori leaders came to regret as the full implications of the mining proposal became known.8

Key had been elected on promises of reviving the New Zealand economy, which was reeling from the global recession of 2008. “Hopefully just a change of government will give some confidence to the economy, that we are going to put economic growth at the top of the agenda,” he told Radio New Zealand after the election.9 But nothing in the pre-election debate in 2008 suggested that the government planned to open any of the country's scenic reserves to mining interests as a means of promoting economic growth.

Gerard (Gerry) Brownlee, Minister of Energy, announced the policy changes in August 2009 at a mining industry conference in the South Island resort city of Queenstown. Brownlee outlined a series of changes to the Crown Minerals Act, which protects national parks and conservation reserves from mineral exploration and extraction. He also called for a loosening of access requirements to lands administered by the Department of Conservation. “The National-led Government is absolutely determined to raise our living standards,” Brownlee said. “The development of our abundant mineral resources will play an important role in achieving that goal. The government later released a document giving a total gross estimated value of US$151 billion if all of New Zealand's on-shore minerals, excluding hydrocarbons, were extracted from the earth.10

Details of the proposal emerged in the next few months. In March 2010, Brownlee proposed taking stock of lands reserved under Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act of 1991. That section of the law delineates land that is excluded from the possibility of being mined due to its high conservation values. Included are national parks, nature reserves, and scientific reserves—“land considered to be core conservation lands,” the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, a New Zealand environmental group, argued in 2010. The group estimated that 40% of conservation lands (approximately 14% of the country's total land area) fell under Schedule 4.11

The government proposed removing 7,058 hectares (17,440 acres) from Schedule 4, including land on Great Barrier Island (east of Auckland), Paparoa National Park on the South Island, and the scenic Coromandel Peninsula, a popular tourist destination that is also the site of a large open-cast (open pit) gold mine. In a joint statement, Brownlee and Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson said that opening more of the country to mineral exploration would boost the economy. “The areas being considered for removal are small and any mining on conservation land is subject to strict environmental tests,” Wilkinson said. “It has been made clear that any future mining applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis and conservation and environmental management remain a key consideration,” she said. At the same time, she said the government wanted to add a further 12,400 hectares to Schedule 4, a net gain in protected areas of 5,342 hectares.12

Foreshadowing the debate to follow, David Parker, Labour's spokesman on conservation issues, denounced increased mining on Department of Conservation lands as “lunacy.”13 Meanwhile, the Maori iwi (tribe) with extensive land claims on the North Island's Coromandel Peninsula came out against Brownlee's proposal. The Hauraki iwi said it wanted outstanding Treaty of Waitangi claims dealt with before the government opened up conservation land in Coromandel for expanded mining.

Caption: Uncovered coal seams, showing an open cast mine, Kai Point Coal Mine, New Zealand.

Caption: Uncovered coal seams, showing an open cast mine, Kai Point Coal Mine, New Zealand.

Caption: The Stockton Mine near the west coast of New Zealand's south island is the largest open-pit coal mine in the country.

Caption: The Stockton Mine near the west coast of New Zealand's south island is the largest open-pit coal mine in the country.

The Mining Industry Reaction and Perspective

Mining industry leaders hailed the potential changes, calling them “a renaissance for the industry.” Murray Stevens, chair of the New Zealand branch of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, declared: “New Zealand finally got a government which wants to see development of the mineral sector in a sustainable fashion.” Stevens dismissed concerns about the potential negative impact of mining, asserting, “The New Zealand mining sector has got an environmental record second to none in the world, which speaks for itself.”14

Chris Baker, chief executive of Straterra, the industry group representing the mining and resource sector in New Zealand, asserted that a properly conducted economic analysis would demonstrate the benefit of allowing more large-scale mining. Baker argued that while some of the national parks and other conservation lands are of high value, others are not. He said, for example, that parts of the Coromandel are cut-over scrub, infested with pests and weeds, visited by few people, and when considering mining on conservation lands, a case-by-case approach needed to be taken. There was also a need to get a better handle on the value of minerals on conservation lands.

Baker asserted that mining today is green. It has to be or it wouldn't be approved in New Zealand. He argued that the goal of many mining companies is to have a positive net effect on New Zealand's environment. Mining could actually enhance New Zealand's “clean, green” image because it is carried out under stricter laws than in many countries and leaves a small footprint while creating wealth.

Turning to what he called the real threats to national parks and conservation lands, he stated that pests and weeds that threaten native animals and plants posed a greater threat to conservation lands than mining. Although mining is currently much smaller than tourism, its economic impact could triple over the next 20 years, he predicted. An early poll in the debate showed that close to 50% of respondents were open to mining on protected (Schedule 4) conservation lands.15

Caption: Newmont Waihi Gold's Martha open-pit mine on the Coromandel Peninsula.

Caption: Newmont Waihi Gold's Martha open-pit mine on the Coromandel Peninsula.

Caption: The fjords of Milford Sound on the west coast of New Zealand's South Island are among the most popular destinations for international tourists.

Caption: The fjords of Milford Sound on the west coast of New Zealand's South Island are among the most popular destinations for international tourists.

The Environmental Community's Reaction

Public reaction to the government's proposals was swift and sharp. Forest and Bird denounced the Brownlee-Wilkinson measures as a sham, and in March 2010 led the public debate after releasing leaked information about the government's proposals. The organization noted that much of the additional land had been proposed for protection in 2008 and had been awaiting official designation. “The proposal is proof that the Government fails to see the value of conservation land—for tourism, for recreation and for the unique plants and animals it protects,” Forest & Bird advocate Kevin Hackwell said in a press release. “We hope thousands of New Zealanders will let the Government know that they don't want mining in national parks.”16

Greenpeace accused the Key government of attempting to drag New Zealand back to the nineteenth century. “It's like we fell asleep and woke up and it's the 80s again,” Greenpeace Senior Campaigner Simon Boxer said in a prepared statement, a reference to the “Think Big” proposals of the National government of Robert Muldoon, prime minister from 1975 to 1984. “The National Party's rudimentary approach to economic development is fast consigning ‘clean green’ New Zealand to the historical dustbin,” Boxer said. “Its rip shit and bust approach to growth is destroying everything we stand for as a country.”17

The U.S. Sierra Club also criticized the proposal, calling it a threat to New Zealand's clean and green image abroad. Richard Cellarius, the club's international vice-president, wrote to Key:

You have the responsibility to protect New Zealand's wild heritage not only for the enjoyment of future generations but also for the protection and conservation of the Earth's ever shrinking biodiversity. Clearly, any extractive intrusion into the areas that attract international visitors will result in such visitors reconsidering visits to your country if visits to your magnificent mountains include vistas that are marred by mining excavations and facilities. Long-term protection should not be sacrificed for immediate commercial gain.18

Institute for Policy Studies Analysis

An economic analysis done by Geoff Bertram of the Institute for Policy Studies at Victoria University of Wellington showed that mineral exploration would not only degrade landscapes that attract visitors, it would undercut the nation's “100% pure” marketing campaign outside New Zealand. Bertram wrote: “To bring mining up to comparability with tourism as an export earner would require a lot of new, very large mines.”

Bertram noted opening protected lands to mining could hurt New Zealand's image abroad, regardless of whether the lands were ever mined. Bertram quoted two major studies in the early 2000s that analyzed the economic impact to New Zealand's brand image from anti-environment policies, which could have a significant spillover effect, reducing overseas tourism by a large amount, especially given tourism's large weight in New Zealand's gross domestic product (GDP).19

Bertram argued that mining will not increase economic welfare; instead, it will often decrease it, if done in the wrong place or wrong way. He argued that the government figure of US$151 billion as an estimate of New Zealand's on-shore mineral value was meaningless because it represented possible gross revenue if all minerals were extracted in the country. This estimate did not subtract any of the associated costs in mineral development to get an estimate of net income or “resource rent.”

Bertram, using Statistics New Zealand figures, estimated that the lump-sum valuation for the entire mineral estate was under US$1.6 billion. With about 10% of the land with potential mineral resources in the conservation estate, this US$156 million would result in a one-time payment of less than US $55 to each New Zealand voter. Using various assumptions, the maximum each voter would get if all of the land targeted by the government were opened up would be US$111, a small benefit, he argued, given the short- and long-term costs that would need to be included in a social cost–benefit analysis.20

Bertram pointed out that most of the proposed open-pit mining on conservation lands in New Zealand would be for gold and silver, which today represents only 20% of the value of the current output in mining. Another consideration in New Zealand is that gold and silver mining is almost completely controlled by offshore ownership. Mine workers in New Zealand would get a relatively low share of the total value added, since across economy as a whole it is 47% but for mining it is 21%, less than half the national average. Thus, the mining sector, and especially the type of gold and silver mining proposed on conservation lands, is not a strong generator of employment or wages and income in New Zealand. Mining as a whole accounts for roughly 1% of GDP but only 0.3% of the economy's employment.21

Tom Beninion, a barrister and a lecturer in environmental law at Victoria University in Wellington, in another study for the Institute for Policy Studies, pointed out that the government proposal of taking decisions over mining on conservation lands out of the hands of the Minister of Conservation alone and making them a joint decision with the Minister of Energy and Resources was an effort by the government to reduce the responsibility of the Minister of Conservation. The Minister of Energy would be sitting on the shoulder of the Minister of Conservation, which could have unforseen and perverse consequences.22 Bertram added that giving two Ministers unfettered discretion to remove areas following a consultation process might easily be reduced to tokenism. He proposed requiring a parliamentary vote to remove any lands from protected status to allow mining.23

Caption: Newmont Waihi Gold is hoping to capitalize on tourists' interest in learning more about mining through a visitor center in Waihi and van tours.

Caption: Newmont Waihi Gold is hoping to capitalize on tourists' interest in learning more about mining through a visitor center in Waihi and van tours.

Public Reaction to the Proposal

A coalition of environmental organizations organized a May Day 2010 demonstration in Auckland, the nation's largest city. Under the umbrella of “Don't Undermine New Zealand” were organizations such as Greenpeace, Forest & Bird, Coromandel Watchdog, the Federated Mountain Clubs, and ECO, the Environment and Conservation Organisations of Aotearoa New Zealand. “We're at a real crossroads as a nation: are we really willing to risk the long-term well being of the economy and the environment?” asked Greenpeace Executive Director Bunny McDiarmid. “Now is the time for New Zealanders to stand up and say ‘this is not the direction we want for our country.”24 In an April 14 blog posting, Greenpeace staffer Kathy Cumming wrote: “Bring your family, friends, peers, bank teller, bus driver, and your love of this beautiful country we call home.”25

Protesters came by the tens of thousands to oppose opening up national parks and other scenic areas to mining exploration. The New Zealand Herald estimated the crowd at 40,000, while police put the figure at 20,000. The Herald called it the biggest demonstration since more than 10,000 marched against genetic engineering in September 2001.26 Banners decried the pro-mining policy of Prime Minister Key and his cabinet minister, Brownlee, and called for preservation of the country's most scenic mountains, forests, and shorelines.

The May 1 protest attracted opposition Labour Party leader Phil Goff and eight members of his caucus, five members of Parliament from the Green Party, and actors Lucy Lawless, Robyn Malcolm, and Madeleine Sami. A week later, political writer Anthony Hubbard called the anti-mining demonstration the first indication of discontent with Key's National government midway through his term:

What's more, the marchers were angry and serious, accusing the government of betraying the country's cherished myth of environmental purity. John Key, guardian as tourism minister of the clean, green Kiwi brand, was proposing to dig huge mud-holes in the middle of paradise! Likable, smiley John Key was a fink.27

New Zealanders also took to heart the government's request to submit comments on the proposal to open the Schedule 4 lands to mining exploration. The Ministry of Economic Development received more than 37,000 written submissions, most of them opposed to additional mining, before a May 26 deadline.28

Caption: Forest and Bird's campaign against mining suggested a potential loss of international tourists if the country's pristine image was damaged.

Caption: Forest and Bird's campaign against mining suggested a potential loss of international tourists if the country's pristine image was damaged.

Caption: Actress Lucy Lawless (center) walks among the crowd that marched up Queen Street in Auckland on May 1, 2010, in opposition to a government mining proposal.

Caption: Actress Lucy Lawless (center) walks among the crowd that marched up Queen Street in Auckland on May 1, 2010, in opposition to a government mining proposal.

Parliamentary Commissioner on the Environment Speaks Out

Just days before the Auckland march, Jan Wright, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, whose role is independent of the government, declared that the government had failed to make a case for opening the Schedule 4 lands to mining. In her official submission in response to the government's proposal, she noted the absence of information about the conservation value of the land as well as the benefit to New Zealanders of mining it. “These areas have been set aside as some of our most precious conservation land,” Wright said in a prepared statement, “and before we can even begin to discuss mining it in any rational manner we need a lot of good information which simply hasn't been made available.” Wright also took issue with having the powers of the Minister of Conservation watered down by granting shared access with the Minister of Energy. She wrote, “Such a move would unfairly privilege mining and compromises the role of the Conservation Minister who holds the conservation estate in trust for the public.”

In response, Economic Development Minister Brownlee said the stock-taking was necessary to determine the potential value of the minerals on the conservation lands. “The Government can't identify the potential mineral value the commissioner cites as necessary to justify the risk to the environment without removing Schedule 4 status; the commissioner in turn says you should only remove Schedule 4 status if the potential value justifies the risk to the environment,” he said. “Schedule 4 status prevents the exploration works necessary to accurately identify the value of what's there, despite those works having very little impact on the land in question.” 29

Later, Wright issued a report analyzing the controversy and suggesting remedial legislation. Wright, who has independent investigative authority under the Environment Act of 1986, called the public debate “somewhat muddled.” She noted that the government's mishandling of the proposal to open Schedule 4 land to mining exploration—and the public confusion over exactly which land might be affected—contributed to a loss of public confidence in mining on other lands. She argued that the government should use mining rentals (i.e., payments for land access) to enhance conservation efforts—particularly pest eradication on other public lands. And she criticized efforts to restrict the regulatory role of the Department of Conservation by making it a partner with the Crown Minerals agency (part of the Ministry of Economic Development) in administering access arrangements.30

Two months after the anti-mining demonstration and criticisms from the Parliamentary Commissioner, among others, the government backed away from its earlier proposal. Brownlee and Wilkinson announced that all of the earmarked land would retain Schedule 4 protection. “We wanted to allay the fears of some submitters that the government may consider allowing mining in national parks in the future by taking this possibility off the table,” Wilkinson said. “We heard that message loud and clear,” Brownlee said.31

It's difficult to assess how Wright's submission and public statements influenced the outcome of the debate. Certainly, the nearly quarter-century legacy of the Parliamentary Commissioner's Office as a source of independent policy analysis contributed to the credibility of Wright's comments. Her own stature as a scientist and her record since taking office in 2007 may have been factors. Certainly, her statements early in 2010 about flaws in the government's plan heartened critics of the proposal.

Mining Is Not Sustainable Development

Mining is promoted as a way to boost local development. However, a study of some 100 rural communities in the United States between 1970 and 2000 that derived at least 20% of their labor income from mining found that they had done poorly compared to other rural counties. Mining counties had a slower growth in aggregate income, ranging, depending on the decade, from 25% to 60% slower than the national average for rural counties. Unemployment rates were significantly higher, sometimes three times higher. The boom-and-bust cycle and the short-term duration of many mines leave behind unemployed workers, often with only basic skills not competitive in other job markets. The slower economic growth, lower incomes, and higher unemployment rates are accompanied by slower population growth.32

Another drawback is that the prices that make a mining project viable may not remain at profitable levels. Commodity prices vary, are subject to worldwide trends, and for precious metals like silver and gold are notoriously hard to model and predict into the future.33

Former mining communities in the United States and elsewhere are afflicted with a host of pollution problems, ranging from air and water pollution and waste disposal to high levels of arsenic and lead in people's homes. Many companies try to avoid the costs of cleanup and reclamation despite laws in place requiring them to be responsible for it.

International mining companies may buy up smaller local mining companies, or create new subsidiaries before they commence mining. When mining operations are finished they may declare bankruptcy, leaving behind huge environmental cleanup costs. In New Zealand prior to 1991, mining companies could simply walk away, leaving their sites to be cleaned up at taxpayer expense. Today, as part of the process under New Zealand's Resource Management Act cash bonds are required, but the amounts remain insufficient to cover all contingent liabilities, depending on goodwill of companies to remedy major damage of their own account.34

An Alternative Sustainable Development Approach for New Zealand?

Traditional regional development theory has consistently argued that the extractive and industrial sectors are the driving forces of economic development.35 An alternative approach to regional growth is a model based on the role of environmental amenities. Because of their tie to specific places, people usually have to be born into or migrate to places to attain the particular combination of amenities they desire.36 This approach, sometimes called the quality-of-life model, argues that many people migrate and live where they do for noneconomic reasons, and that jobs follow people.

At the same time, companies follow people who seek out high-amenity physical and sociocultural environments. Thus, amenities are important in attracting and retaining businesses. Both entrepreneurs and businesses place great importance on amenity and environmental factors in their decisions to locate or stay where they are.37 Maintaining a place's unique character can be an important economic and sustainable development strategy. There is increasing empirical evidence that amenities and quality of life play an important role in regional development.38Partridge tested the ability of various models to explain regional growth dynamics in the United States over the last 40 to 60 years. He found that amenity-led growth was the runaway winner of this competition.39

Caption: The Martha open-pit gold mine is just 50 meters from the Waihi town center and is the visual reference point for mining in the Coromandel district of New Zealand.
Caption: The Martha open-pit gold mine is just 50 meters from the Waihi town center and is the visual reference point for mining in the Coromandel district of New Zealand.

Will New Zealand Remain on the Road Toward Sustainability?

Many New Zealand communities in or near conservation lands have attracted people to move there, create businesses, or establish second homes. The opening of mines in or near them would have been incompatible with sustainable development, if the experiences of the United States and elsewhere serve as examples.40

If mining takes were to take place on conservation lands, and if government agencies were unable to manage the myriad of potential problems from mining, then New Zealand would become a more polluted country and would have to bear associated costs for a long time. New Zealand's image would also change dramatically, affecting the country's ranking in such indices as the EPI.

Open-pit mining for a precious metal such as gold in New Zealand's national parks and other public conservation lands also raises the issue of who benefits from the metal's production of gold. About 60% of gold worldwide is used for jewelry. Another 30% or so is used for financial investment purposes.41 Only about 10% of gold is used for industrial purposes, made into products that have some useful purpose beyond conspicuous personal adornment or financial speculation. Who benefits from jewelry and gold investment is an appropriate question to ask, since New Zealand's environment and citizens would bear a significant part of the costs, and sacrifice parts of their natural heritage.

New Zealand politicians seem to periodically ask, “Why can't we be more like Australia?” This discourse recurred during the debate over mining on conservation lands. Some New Zealanders see Australia as more successful economically, in part because of its mining sector, which the Key government suggested New Zealand should emulate. This ignores several important points.

First is the role of scale. Mining in remote parts of a huge country such as Australia is much different from doing mining in a small island nation where the impacts of mining will be much closer to populated areas, as well as physical and recreational amenities. In addition, the high rainfall and steep topography of parts of New Zealand make it more challenging to manage the environmental impact of mining. Even in Australia the mining industry has contributed only between 1 and 4% to the country's GDP, depending on the time period.42

The debate over mining on conservation lands showed that while generally supportive of the Key government, New Zealanders were hesitant to embrace the resource-development strategy advocated by Cabinet ministers Brownlee and Wilkinson—particularly without further justification that mining exploration could be carried out without damage to the environment. In addition, the deaths of 43 workers at the Pike River coal mine on the South Island in November 2010—the nation's worst mining disaster since 1914—raised questions about the safety of underground mining.

Finally, the severe Christchurch earthquake in February 2011 diverted the government's attention; Brownlee was appointed Cabinet minister in charge of earthquake recovery. Nonetheless, Prime Minister Key's decision in 2010 not to pursue the pro-mining initiative can be seen a reflection of the country's desire to remain on a sustainable path—and to project an image abroad of “100% pure and natural.” It is also testimony to the power of a mobilized public, as the 2010 Auckland demonstration showed.

1. C. Bell, “Branding New Zealand: The National Greenwash,” British Review of New Zealand Studies 15 (2005/6): 13–28; S. Frohlick and L. Johnston, “Naturalizing Bodies and Places,” Annals of Tourism Research, 38 (2011): 1090–1109.

2. D. Pearce, “Tourism,” Asia Pacific Viewpoint 42 (1): 75–84, and

33. N. Wheen, “A History of New Zealand Environmental Law,” in E. Pawson and T. Brooking, eds., Environmental Histories of New Zealand (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 261–274.

4. Wheen, ibid.

5. Wheen, ibid.

6. New Zealand National Parks Act, 1980.

7. E. Higgins, “Key Holds Coalition Talks After NZ Victory,” The Australian, Nov. 8, 2008. See also

8. C. Trevett, “Maori Party Pleased With Talks, Reach Draft Agreement,” New Zealand Herald, November 12, 2008.

9. A. Young, “John Key: Our NZ Election Win Will Boost Economy,” New Zealand Herald, November 8, 2008.

10. F. Wolfe, “Crown Land May Be Used for Mining,” Otago Daily Times, August 27, 2009. For the full text of Brownlee's remarks, see: New Zealand Ministry of Economic Development, Maximizing our Mineral Potential: Stocktake of Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act and Beyond, March 2010.

11. “What Is Schedule 4?,” Forest & Bird, February 2010, p. 16. See also For a list of protected lands see


13. S. Hartley, “New Era in Mineral Exploration,” Otago Daily Times, August 31, 2009.

14. Hartley, ibid.

15. C. Baker, “A Mining Industry View,” Policy Quarterly, 7, no. 1 (2011) 26–30.


17. “Mining decision attacks NZ values, brand and identity.” Greenpeace New Zealand press release,

18. K. Knight, “US Greens: Mining in NZ Parks ‘An Insult’, Sunday Star Times, February 14, 2010. See also:

19. G. Bertram, “Mining in the New Zealand Economy,” Policy Quarterly, 7, no. 1 (2011): 13–19.

20. G. Bertram, op. cit., 2011.

21. G. Bertram, op. cit., 2011.

22.T. Beninion, “Access to Minerals,” Policy Quarterly, 7, no. 1 (2011): 7–12.

23. G. Bertram, op. cit., 2011. In the United States, for example, only an Act of Congress can remove National Park status.



26. M. Nippert, “Biggest Protest in a Generation,” New Zealand Herald, May 2, 2011.

27. A. Hubbard, “Under-Mining a Rich Seam of Popularity?,” Sunday Star-Times, May 9, 2010, p. A7.


29. V. Small, “Mining Plan Fails to Impress Commissioner,” Dominion Post, April 28, 2010. Available at (retrieved July 16, 2011); “Mining Plans Don't Pass First Hurdle,” news release from the Parliamentary Commissioner on the Environment, April 27, 2010. Available at (retrieved July 18, 2011).

30. “Making Difficult Decisions: Mining the Conservation Estate,” Parliamentary Commissioner on the Environment, September 2010. Available at

31. For the full text of their statement, see Political analysts ultimately concluded that the political risks were too high and the benefits of pressing ahead with the plan negligible.

32. T. M. Power, Lost Landscapes and Failed Economies (Covelo, CA: Island Press 1996), p. 2002. T. M. Power, The Economic Role of Mining in Minnesota: Past, Present and Future (Missoula: Economics Department, University of Montana, 2007); G. Rudzitis, Wilderness and the Changing American West (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996).

33. G. Rudzitis, “Silver Prices and Market Speculation,” in H. E. Johanson, O. P. Matthews, and G. Rudzitis, eds., Mineral Resource Development: Geopolitics, Economics and Policy (Boulder, CO: Westview Press 1987), p. 2011; G. Rudzitis, “Mineral Resources,” McGraw Hill Encyclopaedia of Science and Technology (New York: 2011).

34. G. Bertram, op. cit., 2011.

35. G. Rudzitis, op. cit., 1996.

36. P. E. Graves, “A Life-Cycle Empirical Analysis of Migration and Climate by Race,” Journal of Urban Economics, April (1979), 135–147; P. E. Graves and P. D. Linneman, “Household Migration: Theoretical and Empirical Results,” Journal of Urban Economics 6 (1979): 383–404; D. B. Diamond and G. S. Tolley, The Economics of Urban Amenities (New York: Academic Press, 1982); G. Rudzitis and R. A. Streatfeild, “The Importance of Amenities and Attitudes: A Washington Example,” Journal of Environmental Systems 22 (1992–1993): 269–277; L. A. G. Moss, ed., The Amenity Migrants: Seeking and Sustaining Mountains and Their Cultures (Wallingford, CT: CABI Publishing, 2006).

37. J. D. Johnson and R. Rasker, “The Role of Economic and Quality of Life Values in Rural Business Decisions,” Journal of Rural Studies 11 (1995): 405–416.

38. P. R. Mueser and P.E. Graves, “Examining the Role of Economic Opportunity and Amenities in Explaining Population Redistribution,” Journal of Urban Economics 37 (1995): 176–200; L. Schmidt and P. N. Courant, “Sometimes Close Is Good Enough: The Value of Nearby Environmental Amenities,” Journal of Regional Science 46 (2006): 931–951: J. J. Wu and M. Gopinath, “What Causes Spatial Variation In Economic Development in the United States,” American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 90 (2008): 392–408; C. vonReichert and G. Rudzitis, “Rent and Wage Effects on the Choice of Amenity Destinations of the Labor and Non-Labor Force,” Journal of Regional Science 34 (1994) 445–455.; C. Dearien, G. Rudzitis, and J. Hintz, “The Role of Wilderness and Public Land Amenities in Explaining Migration and Rural Development in the American Northwest,” in G. P. Green, S. C. Deller, and D. W. Marcouiller, eds., Amenities and Rural Development: Theory, Methods, and Public Policy (Northhampton, MA: Edgar Elgar Publishing, Frontiers in Environmental Economics Series, 2005), pp. 174–202.

39. M. D. Partridge, “The Dueling Models: NEG vs Amenity Migration In Explaining US Engines of Growth,” Papers in Regional Science, 89 (2010): 514–536.

40. G. Rudzitis, “Mining and Development: Lessons from the United States,” Policy Quarterly, 7, no. 1 (2011): 20–25; R. Rasker, personal communication (2010).

41. S. Ali, Treasures of the Earth (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009).

42. T. M. Power, Digging to Development? A Historical Look at Mining and Economic Development (Boston: Oxfam America, 2002).

Gundars Rudzitis is a professor of geography at the University of Idaho. Both conducted research in New Zealand during 2010 while based at the University of Waikato.

Kenton Bird is an associate professor of journalism and mass media at the University of Idaho. Both conducted research in New Zealand during 2010 while based at the University of Waikato.

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