Seabed Mining Ban bill drawn from ballot a 'tūpuna intervention'

By James Perry

Debbie Ngarewa-Packer was brought to tears today as her private member's bill aiming to ban seabed mining was pulled from Parliament's famous biscuit tin.

"It's absolutely tūpuna intervention. To be honest, I wasn't meant to be here. There are a few things that have happened. I think this is a sign of the indigenous people. We've always said there's an extra intangible spirit to us, and this is what needs to happen."

If passed, the Prohibition on Seabed Mining Legislation Amendment Bill will ban all seabed mining within the Aotearoa exclusive economic zone and coastal waters, and retrospectively remove existing seabed mining consents.

Led the fight

Ngarewa-Packer has been at the forefront of the issue for almost a decade as her Ngāti Ruanui iwi challenged Trans-Tasman Resources' (TTR) application to mine the seabed off the Pātea coast in South Taranaki. The Supreme Court last year overturned the permits granted by the Environment Protection Agency, sending the matter back to the EPA.

"It's momentous for us, and momentous for those who've spent the past nine years fighting to stop seabed mining, who have won every court case in this country."

In a case of serendipity, the bill was drawn from the ballot at random just a day after TTR announced its sale to Australian gold and silver mining company Manuka Resources, with an expectation the consent will be reinstated. 

Ngarewa-Packer said TTR's confidence in the reinstatement was misguided and showed how out of touch it was with Taranaki values.

“They always underestimated iwi, they always underestimated the weight, the significance of our kaitiakitanga and mana whenua, the significance of the Tiriti – they always underestimated us.

“What’s really great is there’s a better understanding of indigenous rights and tangata whenua rights than when we started eight or nine years ago… there’s a different pressure.”

Greens' backing

Te Pāti Māori already has the support of the Green Party.

"It's been a long-held position from the Green Party to oppose and ban seabed mining. We are looking forward to continuing our championing and working with the Māori Party to support that," co-leader Marama Davidson says.

Ngarewa-Packer says the pressure is now on the government, and in particular Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to make good on its promise to address the environment and climate change crises.

"Now it's up to us to put it to the Prime Minister and state, 'You've been over to Samoa, you've invested in so many others and made your commitment to climate change, so here's your chance to put your money where your mouth is and support us."