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Minerals sector a sleeping giant, science leader says - 05/07/2000

A more vibrant mining industry in New Zealand would create thousands of new jobs in regions of high unemployment and inject an extra $1 billion into the economy, said Andrew West, Chief Executive of the Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences Limited (GNS).

In spite of the fact that New Zealand was a high consumer of minerals and mineral-based products, New Zealanders appeared increasingly unenthusiastic about doing their global bit to supply minerals, Dr West said in the latest issue of the GNS company newsletter, Globe.

" New Zealanders rely on minerals-based materials in their daily lives to a much greater degree than is generally acknowledged.

"As a nation we seem to have adopted an import approach to the whole industry. We’d rather see it located offshore unless the cost of importing minerals such as aggregate becomes unacceptably high."

The problem with this philosophy was that New Zealand was leaving the harvesting of minerals to nations that may not have the strict environmental standards that apply in New Zealand.

While a decision had been made to effectively limit access to minerals in New Zealand, no-one was prepared to advocate one of the corollaries of this stance – that New Zealanders limit the use of minerals-based materials such as metals, clays, fertilisers, and aggregates.

" To me this is the reverse of New Zealand’s Kyoto position, which is that even though New Zealand contributes relatively little to global climate change it is important that we shoulder the economic and social burden of helping mitigate climate change.

" For the minerals sector, the equivalent is to allow rational access to minerals outside of the national parks while maintaining strict standards for low-environmental impact harvesting and sophisticated rehabilitation.

" This philosophy does not deny the need to reduce society’s consumption of minerals. It simply accepts that while consumption of new minerals continues, then New Zealand should shoulder some of the environmental effects of supplying them."

One of the social and economic benefits emerging from this thesis was that some mineral deposits were located in regions of high unemployment. Dr West said intelligent use of natural resources should be an important part of moves to stimulate regional growth.

" Forestry, grapes and tourism are not the complete answer in each and every situation needing regional growth."

Given the right legislative and investment climate, the minerals sector had the potential to grow from 12,000 to 20,000 regional jobs and from $1 billion to $2 billion in annual turnover.
The other benefit of a more vibrant minerals sector was knowing that we had valuable mineral reserves – without even using them. This would provide New Zealand with a strong base of net tangible asset backing that may help reduce interest rates.

" GNS conservatively estimates that New Zealand has at least NZ$86 billion worth of metallic mineral resources in known and undiscovered deposits. Moreover, some of our non-metallic minerals are valuable, niche materials such as zeolite, perlite and diatomite. They can earn valuable export revenue and some can be used as the base for developing innovative materials such as sophisticated ceramics.

" Consequently, the minerals sector has a lot to offer New Zealanders. Local, regional and central government should help unlock its social and economic contribution."

For more information contact:

Tony Christie, Minerals Geologist,
Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences Limited (GNS),

or John Callan, Communications Co-ordinator, GNS