Kelvin Passfield: Why do foreign mining companies advise on our seabeds law?

Saturday June 27, 2020 Written by Kelvin Passfield, Te Ipukarea Society Published in Environment
At the Seabed Minerals consultation this week, Kelvin Passfield argues for more scrutiny. JACKIE RONGO/KŌRERO O TE `ŌRAU 20062618 At the Seabed Minerals consultation this week, Kelvin Passfield argues for more scrutiny. JACKIE RONGO/KŌRERO O TE `ŌRAU 20062618

OPINION: Changes to the Seabed Minerals regime should not be passed without further scrutiny.

The amendment to the Seabed Mining Bill  came as a shock to us at Te Ipukarea Society, as we had made a very detailed submission on the original Seabed Minerals Act 2019. 

We were therefore very curious to see what changes were being proposed.

The Seabed Minerals Authority replied promptly to our request for a copy of the amendments, along with a note to the effect that the amendments were minor, hence why they had not gone out for public consultation.

However, after reading the amendments, we thought they were significant enough to require a closer look.

We asked for some time to review the changes, and Deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown kindly agreed to give one week for public consultation, including a public meeting on Tuesday. 

Since then we have been scrambling to get expert comments on the proposed changes, and compiling them, along with our fellow environmental group Kōrero o te `Ōrau. 

At the consultation meeting on Tuesday, we heard that some of the amendments proposed, particularly those surrounding confidentiality of information, were proposed by the companies with an interest in exploring for our nodules. 

While we appreciated the honesty in that answer, it does raise questions about the process of developing regulatory legislation? Why are foreign mining companies able to suggest amendments to Cook Islands legislation for the very resource that they have a vested interest in?

And conversely, why were local stakeholders like us not consulted?

Another proposed amendment to the Act was changing the term “public interest” to “national interest”.

We believe this change will have a significant impact on what the general public can do if they feel something is not quite right in the future.

It may be just one word, but anyone who has been at international climate change or fisheries negotiations can tell you what a difference one word can make, and how many sleepless nights are spent arguing about a single word and its implications.

The Seabed Minerals Authority tell us they understand some of our concerns with the amendments, because we have not seen the whole package. 

This includes the draft environmental regulations, and guidelines, which should satisfy a lot of our concerns. The reason we have not seen them is the same reason that Parliament hasn’t seen them – they are not yet completed. 

What we don’t understand is how it can be expected that Parliament will pass legislation containing reference to guidelines that they have not seen?

Surely it would be better to wait until the “whole package” is available? That way we can all assess and see if there are any gaps or deficiencies that should be addressed.

We made our submission by the Thursday 4pm deadline on what we think is wrong with the proposed amendments. 

Despite this running to three pages and 20 recommendations, what it really comes down to is the amendments should not be passed until Parliament and the public have had a chance to see and assess the associated guidelines and regulations that go hand in hand with the amendments, and the 2019 Act as a “whole package”.

At the very least, the amendments should be passed to a Parliamentary Select Committee to ensure a rigorous process is undertaken to get this right.

What we need is to delay passing these amendments until we can see this whole package.

If anyone would like to read our submission, email us at info@tiscookislands and we will be happy to share.

Leave a comment