Brown talks up wealth from ocean floor

Tuesday November 13, 2018 Written by Published in Politics

Public consultations regarding government’s plan to open tenders for the exploration of the Cook Islands’ seafloor have ended on Rarotonga.

 

The Seabed Minerals Authority intends to next conduct consultations in the outer islands.

CINews was able to obtain audio recordings from Thursday night’s meeting at Aroa Nui hall but not from Tuesday’s meeting in Titikaveka.

In Arorangi, deputy prime minister and Finance minister Mark Brown delivered a presentation about the impact seabed minerals activities could have on the Cook Islands.

“The wealth that sits in our ocean—how do we turn that wealth into income?” Brown asked. He then talked about how companies intend to conduct research in Cook Islands waters with a view toward beginning extraction once the exploratory phase is completed.

This phase would involve assessing how much volume the Cook Islands owns.

“The impact on the ocean and on our ocean floor is quite minimal in the exploration phase,” Brown said.

The reason for government’s renewed interest in mining, he said is that the global price of cobalt has tripled in response to a rising demand for batteries and “clean energy” sources, which use minerals found on the Cook Islands’ seafloor.

According to international law, companies licenced to mine own the resources they extract. The financial benefits for the countries licencing them come from taxes and royalties on the minerals’ extraction.

Brown said mining would increase the standard of living in the Cook Islands, promising that if it goes ahead, more Cook Islands students can attend university, more people can travel more cheaply to the outer islands, and more locals can set up companies and build houses.

“There’s a lot to be gained,” he said.

At Thursday night’s meeting, reactions from audience members varied.

Some people praised the government for finally bringing seabed minerals activity, a long-anticipated endeavour, to fruition.

Temu Okotai expressed praise for the renewed vigour with which government is approaching this kind of activity, cautioning only to “leave the politics out of it”.

Others in attendance were concerned about the process and the lack of available information about what kind of environmental impact mining will leave.

Te Ipukarea Society technical director Kelvin Passfield was curious about how government could ensure all data collected during the “exploration phase” is independent and unbiased if it is coming from companies intending to mine.

“So they are going to do their own data collection and research?” he asked.

He asked if government could stipulate in exploratory licences that companies are required to obtain independent research from a university or another neutral organisation.

“These licences are ours to issue,” Brown responded, noting that government is free to impose its own terms.

Imogen Ingram expressed concern about issues of ownership.

Brown continued to emphasise that mining will be a Cook Islands owned industry.

“I’m (concerned) 10 rich Cook Islanders will own the resources,” she replied. “I’d rather we all own it.”

“I’m very concerned,” Noeline Browne added, noting that extraction of minerals has never been sustainable anywhere in the world.

“Don’t rush,” Danny Mataroa echoed. He talked about the deep impact mining has had on places like South Africa and Papua New Guinea.

“South Africa and Papua New Guinea belong to the Crown,” he said, “and the Crown belongs to multinational companies.”

Brown continued to emphasise that at this stage, government is only considering exploratory licences. Extraction is the next phase, and the impacts of this are still unknown.  

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