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The plan to better manage toxic sites in New Zealand - Catherine Delahunty's MOU speeches

On Tuesday 24 May, the Greens signed an MOU with the Government on the clean-up of toxic sites. Here are Catherine Delahunty's two speeches:

Speech at the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding

This agreement represents a step in the right direction if we are to make Aotearoa New Zealand a "clean and green" reality. For many years, the issue of registering and cleaning up contaminated sites has languished in the Government's too-hard basket. The Green Party is pleased to have negotiated a framework with Dr Smith that confirms additional funding for cleaning up the tailings dam at the Tui Mine, which is one of the worst sites in the country. We have agreed to establish a publicly available national register for priority sites which the Government will work on cleaning up over time. We are pleased regional councils will be provided a standard software package to ensure consistent reporting of contaminated sites and that the public can access this information in a coherent manner across the country. The public has an absolute right to know, in straight-forward language, where these sites are and how polluted they are.

The Greens will continue to negotiate and lobby in the future for increases to the contaminated sites fund so that national priority sites, such as the Tui Mine, can be made safe. We have also negotiated with the Minister for a review of the national environment standard to consider both environmental and human health effects on and around contaminated sites and in the food chain. The Ministry for the Environment believe assessing environmental effects is too difficult. However, we have agreed with the Minister to conduct an independent peer review of that advice.

This agreement also includes policy work on the vexed issue of liability for pre 1991 sites. At present, current owners carry the liability. We believe, where they can be identified, the original polluters should pay for the clean-up.

This package continues the practical policy gains the Greens have negotiated with National during this term of Parliament. It's a model of how MMP can work. Contaminated site management and clean-up is an area where we have some common ground. Still, the Green Party is only too aware that we have a long way to go. New Zealand has numerous contaminated areas including former timber treatment sites, abandoned mine workings, gas works, and industrial, agricultural and horticultural chemical hotspots. The Green Party will work constructively with all levels of government to progress identification, isolation and effective clean-up of these sites and to try to prevent the creation of any new areas of contamination of our land, water and communities.

Today we pay tribute to the tireless work of many people, from the poisoned saw mill workers of Whakatane to the residents of Mapua and New Plymouth. We pay tribute to groups like Coromandel Watchdog of Hauraki, the Te Aroha Green Party, and to Gordon Jackman, author of the "Deadly Legacy", who exposed this issue when working for Greenpeace in 1991.

We look forward to a constructive relationship with the Government via this agreement. The deadly legacy of contaminated sites is a blight on our reputation as a country, and on the health and well-being of our people and the environment, on which we depend.

Speech at the Tui Mine Event

He mihi nui ki te Ngato Rahiri Tumutumu me iwi katoa o Hauraki waka. He mihi ki te tangat whenua me Tangata Tiriti katoa.

Greetings to the Minister for the Environment Dr Smith and to all representatives of Environment Waikato and Piako District Council.

Tangata whenua of Hauraki have taught me that Te Moehau is the stern and Te Aroha maunga is Te Kei o te waka - the prow of the Hauraki waka. It is time to heal the waka from Te Aroha to Te Moehau. The Green party supports the Te Tiriti rights of the tangata whenua in terms of your tipuna maunga including the responsibility of the Crown to clean up the mine site on the mountain. Since 1967 when mining of Mt Te Aroha expanded, there has been a weeping sore of poison leaching into the waterways and a threat of collapse from the unstable tailings dam high on the mountain.

The Canadian-led consortium of companies abandoned the mine in the 70s leaving more than 160,000 tonnes of contaminated waste sitting behind an unstable earth wall directly above the community of Te Aroha. The leachate from the old mine shafts and the tailings dam has been a source of contamination of the Tunakohoia Stream and the downstream creeks since that time.

Today, we have negotiated with the Government for an additional $9.9 million dollars to advance the clean-up that is underway. The priority for the Greens is to see the tailings dam stabilised before Coromandel experiences a weather bomb that could crack its wall and lead to a collapse. Last year, when I visited the site with local residents, I was shocked to see the state of the dam and the mess surrounding the old mine workings. It is appalling that a mining company could abandon its responsibilities and leave such a dangerous legacy. If you stand on the tailings dam, you literally look straight down the mountain side to the community below. Lives have already been lost in Te Aroha from boulders and debris falling down the mountain after a huge storm. The last thing needed is an unstable tailings dam with a risk of collapse.

The obvious risk of collapse is equalled by the less-visible degradation of soil and water downstream by heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium, arsenic, lead, zinc and copper. It is an object lesson in the dangers of mining, and the persistent toxicity of mine tailings, to the environment. Due to the area being treated as orphan site, and the consortium — including New Zealand companies — getting away scot free, the Government and local ratepayers are now footing the bill for this clean up.

However, today we celebrate this collective commitment by the Government, the regional and local authorities and the Green Party to finishing the task of healing the mountain and protecting the community and environment. May there be no more mines in the wrong place, leaving their waste for future generations to pay for.


West Foyer, Parliament
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