The Opposition Democratic Party’s bid to put the Seabed Minerals Bill 2019 through “proper consultation” has been quashed.
Instead, the government forced it through Parliament before adjourning indefinitely.
Opposition leader Tina Browne said the Demos did not oppose the exploration of nodules in the Cook Islands Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
But she was not satisfied with the consultation process undertaken by the government and tabled a motion to put the bill before the select committee.
The motion was defeated as government went ahead and passed the Seabed Minerals Bill 2019.
The bill, to enable the “effective and responsible management” of the seabed minerals of the Cook Islands, received much scrutiny and criticism at public consultations, especially in Rarotonga.
Consultations were also conducted on the outer islands and submissions from the public as well as environment groups were considered, before the bill was drafted by the Seabed Minerals Authority.
Tina Browne said the proper way of consultation was to go through a select committee where views from both the government and the Democratic Party would have been heard.
The consultation conducted by the Seabed Minerals Authority presented only government’s view on the bill.
Browne said one of their other major concerns was the bill giving the minister responsible for seabed minerals full authority to grant the exploration licence.
She raised concerns about fairness, given government would also be one of the applicants – as well as the fear of officials being “tempted to do wrong things” with such power.
The government said the bill underwent an extensive consultation process.
Deputy prime minister Mark Brown said the country should make use of its opportunities through seabed minerals in the EEZ. “We are living in changing times and face multiple challenges as a country from climate change through to meeting our nutritional needs.
“We are fortunate to be a large ocean state with am EEZ of some two million square kilometres. And so it is inevitable that we will turn to our ocean for solutions for our survival. From job creation, to energy, health and nutrition, the potential of our ocean is tremendous.”
However, Brown said that in order to continue enjoying the support of our ocean, the country must also protect it from harm. “We will not be able to unleash the potential of our ocean if we fail to protect it. And if we can strike the right balance, we can show there need not be a contradiction between protection and exploitation.
“Our future prosperity depends on the sustainable use of the ocean for the current and future generations.”