Deputy prime minister Mark Brown, minister of Natural Resources and Minerals, presented, to the communities and people of Rakahanga and then Manihiki, an update report on the progress being made in our national seabed minerals sector and on the new draft Seabed Minerals (SBM) Bill 2019. This proposed bill is intended to upgrade and replace the ten year old SBM Act, passed in 2009, and includes the latest international standards and needs of the Cook Islands, and particularly to better align our seabed minerals sector with the new Marae Moana Act 2017.
The visiting delegation also consisted of the prime minister Henry Puna, and staff of the Cook Islands Investment Corporation, Crown Law Office and the SBM Authority.
The delegation from Rarotonga were warmly welcomed off the Air Rarotonga plane in Manihiki, before catching a boat to make the 45km ocean journey to Rakahanga, where the first of two public presentations were held.
There was an excellent turnout of residents at the Rakahanga consultation, with over forty people attending the meeting. They were eager to find out more about this new and emerging national sector. Just like the previous public consultations, Brown presented in te reo Maori on the background of the sector, the sector’s current status aiming at exploration to commence in 2019 and where the government (with the support of our people) would like the sector to be progressing towards, in the short, medium and long terms. There was a consensus of support at this meeting for the continued development of the sector. There was also a question about the possible effects of seabed mineral activities on our fisheries sector, to which Brown responded “… through the proposed exploration phase, all relevant data will be collected and will help us to identify the potential impacts any future licenced seabed mineral activities on our ocean and our fisheries sector, so we can make good, informed decisions for the benefit of all our people.”
The next day the delegation travelled across the open ocean from Rakahanga back to Manihiki, where the second public consultation was held in the Village of Tukao, where the majority of the population reside. This meeting was also well attended, with close to 80 people present. During question time, there was active feedback on when the future exploration phase might begin, as many in Manihiki would like to see the benefits that this potential minerals sector could bring to our nation. There was also advice given to proceed with caution, due to the priority of the overall health of our ocean in our people’s everyday lives.
Brown reassured attendees that the careful progress of this sector is taking place with input from numerous stakeholders and government agencies, such as Marae Moana, the SBM Authority, Crown Law Office, Cook Islands Investment Corporation, and National Environment Service.
Assistance has also been sought and coming from overseas agencies such as Commonwealth Secretariat, NZ Parliamentary Counsel’s Office, NZ Petroleum and Minerals, NZ Environmental Protection Agency, and NIWA, MIT and the Pew Trust.
The Manager of the Punanga Nui Market, William Taripo, also accompanied the delegation to ask residents of both Rakahanga and Manihiki how he could help them to sell their craft, produce and fish at the market in Rarotonga. The opportunity was given to residents of Rakahanga and Manihiki to voice their needs to Taripo, as well as the prime minister and deputy prime minister, as to how this beneficial economic proposal above could be achieved.
This recent Northern Group consultation completes the latest series of public consultations that commenced seven months ago in Avarua in October 2018. These were undertaken to provide an update of the seabed minerals sector and the proposed SBM Bill to our local communities.
The period for receiving feedback on the new draft SBM Bill has now closed and all feedback received is now being collated and evaluated. The final draft SBM Bill will then be released to the public in the next few weeks for further feedback.
More updates on our national seabed minerals sector can be found on the SBMA website – www.seabedmineralsauthority.gov.ck