Govt drafting bill to end new mines on conservation land

The Government has begun drafting a bill to ban new mines on conservation land but is yet to commit to a timeframe for the legislation.

Former prime minister Jacinda Ardern promised to bring an end to new mines on conservation land during her Speech from the Throne in 2017. However, she didn't follow through before leaving the job last month.

A Government spokesperson has now confirmed "policy options have been progressed" through Cabinet and drafting of a new bill is underway. However, they stressed that final decisions are still to be taken and would require Cabinet approval before a bill is introduced to the House.

That could be complicated further given there is a new Minister for Conservation, Willow-Jean Prime, who has just started in the role.

Asked for comment, she would not commit to a time frame.

"Final decisions on any bill have not been taken.

"A significant amount of policy work would need to be undertaken, including engaging with a range of stakeholders."

West-Coast Tasman MP Damien O'Connor would also not commit to when the bill would be introduced.

Damien O'Connor.

"No bill has been finalised," he said in a statement.

"Work continues to progress to further develop and fully implement the broader policy of having no new mines."

The policy remains a highly contentious issue with passionate views on both sides. Mining advocates feel it unfairly punishes regions that have a high amount of conservation land, such as the West Coast of the South Island.

They say new mines would bring jobs and economic prosperity and the material they contain will be key for the transition to a sustainable future.

Heath Milne of economic agency Development West Coast said it could be a "death knell" for the industry.

"It cannot be disputed that we need to move towards a more sustainable society in the future. To achieve this we need critical minerals that the West Coast has in abundance. The only alternative is to import these minerals from underregulated sources off shore," he said.

Others have long been campaigning for a ban. Forest and Bird described conservation land as "incredibly, incredibly important" in an interview last year, saying it's home to a wide range of species.

Eugenie Sage.

"If we continue to allow a little bit of mining here and a little bit of mining there, what's effectively going to happen is we're going to sentence our conservation land, our incredibly important conservation land, to death by a thousand cuts," its campaigns manager George Hobson said in November.

Eugenie Sage of the Green Party currently has a separate member's bill going through House on the same subject.

She said she was encouraged by news of Labour's plan.

"Legislation to stop new mining on conservation land would mean that New Zealanders can be sure that our natural environment is protected from mining," she said.

"We look forward to seeing the details of the Government's plan, and hope that no new mines on conservation land is a priority for the new prime minister."

Timing remains up in the air, with Labour's second term coming to an end in a few months.