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A blog by Phil McCabe, DSCC Pacific Regional Lead – Deep Sea Mining.

The New Zealand Government initiated an inquiry into seabed mining within its jurisdictional waters earlier this month, signalling a change to domestic regulatory settings. This change would be more in line with New Zealand’s international position of a ‘conditional moratorium’, which was championed last October by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nanaia Mahuta.

The inquiry responds to Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer’s bill seeking to ban seabed mining in New Zealand’s waters and mounting pressure from environmental groups Kiwis Against Seabed Mining, Greenpeace Aotearoa and the wider community. The government chose not to support the bill to ban, citing concerns on the bill’s wording. However, instead initiated its own inquiry into the nascent and controversial industry.

The upset felt and expressed by Ngarewa-Packer, her Iwi Ngāti Ruanui and Ngā Rauru and the thousands of coastal residents and ocean lovers who have been battling seabed mining proposals for over a decade through relentless, gruelling legal battles at great expense, is warranted. I feel it too. Three EPA hearings, five court cases. Enough’s enough!

Ngāti Ruanui, Parliament grounds, Wellington, May 10, 2023

The information to back the call for a ban is available in screeds. If the inquiry weighs it objectively, a ban is the only tenable outcome.

The Government’s move has been widely seen as a dodge and delay tactic. Given the timing between recent and upcoming events, there is most definitely politicking at play. Whatever the reason for the Labour-led Government not supporting the bill, the fact is that a ban on seabed mining is now a live issue within the New Zealand Parliament. And that is new territory.

The Environment Select Committee inquiry will play out over the upcoming months, likely completed before this Parliament closes for the general election in October. Also this month, an EPA hearing process will recommence on Trans Tasman Resources’ application to mine the seabed of the South Taranaki Bight, which was approved by the EPA in 2017 and quashed by three courts, ultimately being sent back to the EPA for reconsideration by the Supreme Court.

Drawing back to the Pacific regional and global viewpoints, the issue of deep-sea mining is highly topical, sensitive and fast moving. With three extensive EPA hearing processes and ensueing court cases since 2013, Aotearoa New Zealand has scrutinised the activity more so than any other jurisdiction on Earth. Therefore New Zealand has an important role to play in these wider contexts. The last decade in New Zealand has been a cautionary forerunner to what is currently playing out elsewhere and perhaps the Government has eyed its moral obligation to share the country’s experience and findings with their closest neighbours and the wider world as they grapple with the complex environmental, economic and social implications of seabed mining. And perhaps the New Zealand Government can feel the warm glow of opportunity that lies within that journey.

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