Gerry Brownlee drew down the curtain on the poor-but-pure era of New Zealand political thinking in his opening address to the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy conference at Queenstown recently.
Soon after the address, NZ Manufacturer interviewed Gerry Brownlee, Minister of Economic Development & Minister of Energy Resources.
You must have been disappointed, alarmed even, last month when media reports of your opening address to the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy focused on your outlining the need for a more flexible approach to land under the auspices of the Department of Conservation and which as you noted contain a third of our mineral resources?
GB: That’s what the speech said so it’s not surprising I guess that that’s how it was reported.. The reality is that we have conservatively estimated $240 billion worth of minerals in New Zealand and 70% of those minerals are on Conservation Department Land. What I’ve proposed is that we have a review of all the land on which mining is basically prohibited now. It may be that there’s some land with quite low conservation values but very large mineral values where it would make sense to engage in some responsible mining.
Your address to the Institute was remarkable in that you ventured into a kind of New Zealand ironic Forbidden Land by quoting authorities, notably the World Bank on data that demonstrates that with the exception of Saudi Arabia, New Zealand has more natural resources wealth per capita than any other nation, even Australia.
GB : As I’ve been saying for a while now, New Zealanders need to know that we have abundant natural resources that we can responsibly develop in order to improve our standard of living. We have superb renewable energy resources like wind, hydro and geothermal, plus huge potential in our oil and gas basins and mineral deposits.
On one side there is your role as Minister of Economic Development. On the other is that of Energy and Resources. In the current mood these two assignments seem dangerously conflicted, almost as if one neutralised the other. You have personally pledged to raise the nation’s ever-sinking living standards. You even have part, perhaps even the greatest part, of the solution under your own jurisdiction, mineral development?
GB: I see the two portfolios as very much complementary with each other. There’s no doubt whatsoever that utilising our mineral resources can raise our growth rates and contribute to economic development. Obviously the economic development portfolio has a lot of other things within it but it is a certainty that secure energy supply is an essential component.
To both these portfolios you bring a reputation for plain speaking and for regarding a straight line as the shortest and best course to an objective. You noted in Queenstown Australia’s description as the Lucky Country. But the data at your fingertips indicated that New Zealand was luckier?
GB: The World Bank report I quoted found that New Zealand has more natural wealth per capita than Australia, second only behind Saudi Arabia. We have absolutely superb natural resources in this country we just need to take advantage of them and maximise the contribution they can play in growing the economy while being mindful of the intangible value our 100 percent pure brand brings to New Zealand.
One last one. In the Labour-led coalition, we understand, one Minister became so indoctrinated that they were unable to utter, in public, anyway, the words ‘oil’ or ‘coal.’ So whether we refer to the mood as middle class guilt transfer, or accept it as genuine anguish, you still have before you this immense task of reassuring just your own base about the ability of Solid Energy especially to remediate, rehabilitate, and generally tidy up after them?
GB : I’m not sure if that story is true but as I’ve said a few times, the previous government did neglect our natural resources. We’ve taken, and will continue to take, a more pragmatic approach.
I’m quite confident in the ability of Solid Energy and other miners to exercise appropriate environmental responsibility. The days of plunder and pillage by miners are gone. Modern day mining is very environmentally responsible.