The Catholic Agency for Justice, Peace and Development

One casting vote determines the future for New Zealand’s oceans

Event date: 
11 Aug 2017

Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand is concerned about the decision by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to grant a marine consent to Trans-Tasman Resources Limited (TTR) to vacuum up the sea bed off the South Taranaki Bight in order to extract iron ore sands.  The decision hinged on one deciding vote.

In its October 2016 submission to EPA, Caritas promoted Pope Francis’ message, “intervention in nature can have consequences which are not immediately evident”.  Vacuuming up 50 million tonnes of seabed material per annum may have short term gains but it could also lead to long term ruin.  TTR’s own technical reports acknowledge that some sediment will drift into other areas, including landward into the coastal marine area. 

Over the last three years, Caritas’ reports on the Oceania environment have highlighted the impacts of offshore seabed mining as a significant concern to coastal communities, indigenous communities and the Catholic Church across the Pacific.  

Caritas believes that the EPA’s consent to extract iron ore sands did not give appropriate and reasonable consideration of the impact on people, communities, amenity values, social, economic, aesthetic and cultural conditions essential to an integral ecology.  In other words, the EPA’s Decision-making Committee’s approach failed to consider that when it comes to care for our common home, everything is interconnected.

In our view, the process undertaken by the EPA in relation to notification of iwi does not constitute what Pope Francis calls an “authentic encounter”.  Face to face dialogue based on mutual respect and tikanga to an acceptable standard is yet to take place.  

“Consultation with local iwi and communities is essential and should be done before any consent is granted.  Doing consultation after the decision is made smacks of tokenism and is unacceptable in the 21st century,” said Caritas Director, Julianne Hickey. 

In July, Mrs. Hickey talked about protecting and sustaining the oceans at the UN.  Going ahead could undermine the world’s goals for the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda that New Zealand has signed up to.  There has been little to no assessment of climate change impacts (the oceans absorb one third of the carbon dioxide emitted by humans).

As conveyed to the EPA in our October submission, The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which New Zealand supports, provides for “free, prior and informed consent”.  It is difficult to see where this decision gives effect to the values and interests of South Taranaki iwi.
“This was a decision centred on uncertainty and hinging on a single casting vote due to interpretative disputes and conflicting arguments.  As the Decision-making Committee said, there are long established interests within the coastal marine area and current claims by iwi under the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act.  New Zealand’s international commitments are yet to be taken into account,” said Mrs Hickey.  

As parties look to appeal this decision, we hope that the well-being of our environment now, and for future generations is fully considered.


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