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General Debate

Metiria Turei MP
Metiria Turei MP
metiria [dot] turei [at] parliament [dot] govt [dot] nz (Email)

During the adjournment I went to Happy Valley, a beautiful area of native bush, very fragile wetlands, and a thriving ecosystem of native birds and animals. Happy Valley is on the West Coast of the South Island, just north-east of Westport. It takes a few hours to climb up there — for me, especially — but I strongly recommend it. It is well worth the effort.

Happy Valley is home to many threatened species, including the great spotted kiwi and the native patrickensis land snail, kākā, kārāriki, and western weka. New Zealand falcon, kea, kererū, and the long-tailed cuckoo have also been seen in that area. The valley is now also the home of a long-term occupation of committed environmentalists who, since January of this year, have been highlighting the devastation intended by Solid Energy's plans for an open-cast mine. The mine will consist of two open-cast pits covering half of the 265 hectare site. The open pits will be up to nearly 100 metres deep. Solid Energy will extract 500,000 tonnes of coal from the mine every year for 10 years, mostly for export. This will require the removal of 29 million cubic metres of the rock and soil that cover the coal, approximately half of which will be acid-forming. The Government has estimated that between the Stockton and Happy Valley mines, up to 6.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide will be released into the atmosphere per annum.

The chief executive of Solid Energy, Don Elder, has been reported as stating that there will be no net increase in jobs for the West Coast from the Happy Valley mine, but despite this the classic tension between those who support the mine, ostensibly for jobs, and those who want to protect New Zealand's indigenous species from extinction is raging again. Conservationists, like Coaster Peter Lusk, are being subjected to criminal harassment, threats, property damage, and abuse because of their conservation ethic. There is no justification for that criminal behaviour; we are supposed to live in a free country.

When I went to the valley I spoke to a few of the locals. One guy I met told me that his family was brought to the Coast a hundred years ago for the mining, but although coalmining attracted his old people to the Coast, it will not be coalmining that keeps him and his family there. In fact, he does not work at the mine; he is in the tourism industry.

The fact is that Westland can no longer rely on extractive resources as the basis of its economy. It simply must move towards sustainability if it is to have any hope of surviving in the future. There are alternatives to extractive resources. For example, significant dairying — which has good features and bad features — is going on there. It could be better developed for the area, with a stronger emphasis on local processing into high-value cheeses, for example — and at least the area has good rainfall, as opposed to the drought-ridden dairy farms of Canterbury.

Ecotourism is a growing development on the Coast. There is plantation forestry, which could be very significant if highly skilled wood-processing facilities are established. If that industry was to be combined with the development of the port, so that the Coast does not have to keep transporting everything to Christchurch by train, the Coast would then have the beginnings of the infrastructure it needs to grow a local, independent, and sustainable economy that is not reliant on the destruction of the very natural resources on which it depends. Those examples are at least some attempts to move away from extractive resources, which not only lead to the extinction of native species but also to acid mine drainage, for example, that poisons the rivers on which those other industries and the community depend.

It is also crucial that the value of development remains on the Coast. Solid Energy's profits do not go back to the Coast. They are sent elsewhere and benefit other areas. Regional business support schemes, strong ecotourism, and "buy local" strategies would all keep Coast money in Coast hands. Supporting coalmining on the grounds that it provides jobs for Coasters is dishonest and irresponsible. It binds the Coast to an unsustainable, dead-end economic cycle that will only eat away at those very communities, either because they push away committed Coasters like Peter Lusk, or because the economic opportunities become so narrow and mean that it is no longer viable to live and raise a family there.

The only way to avoid conflict between the conservationists and Coasters over issues like the snails in Happy Valley is to protect the economic future of the Coast through truly sustainable opportunities.


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