SO LET me get this right. We have an estimated $60 billion worth of gold and silver sitting under the Coromandel and Great Barrier Island, and we're going to leave it there?
And if we find tens of billions of dollars' worth of precious metals elsewhere in conservation areas or in national parks, we're going to flag that too?
Dear Lord, has New Zealand got rocks in its collective head? This can be the only sane conclusion after the government's gratuitous backdown last week on granting prospecting licences on what is known as "Schedule 4" land.
Apparently Schedule 4 land is really pretty. Mostly inaccessible, but really pretty. Lots of ferns and fantails and stuff. Even snails. But it's more than pretty, it's magic.
It must be, for it has the unique ability to turn normally rational commentators and politicians into gibbering fools. So much so that, last week, one increasingly tabloid paper stamped the words "Saved!" across photos of the various sites.
Saved – from what? All the prospecting licences gave mining companies the ability to do was quantify, as best they could, the exact amount of money that the greenies and the metro-liberals want denied to the rest of us.
It did not give mining companies the right to extract any of these minerals. Just to research. And, presumably, the opportunity for a future government to devise policies that properly balanced both the hidden resource and environmental imperatives.
Sure, people were upset at the potential for mining. But not that many. Thirty thousand marching down Auckland's Queen St is not a democracy. Submissions to a discussion paper do not represent public opinion.
Instead it is pinhead politics. Listening to loud, misinformed voices shouting hysteria and stampeding some sections of a gullible media into believing that the sky is falling in. Or at least the ground. That this National cabinet fell for the ruse is bad enough. That it described such tactics as illustrative and/or representative of the public will is garbage.
Because, if this government was listening to properly expressed will – oh, say, a national referendum with a clear Yes/No answer – then we might excuse last week's charade.
But no, that is not its principle. It continues to uphold the parental smacking ban that remains imposed upon responsible families everywhere.
One suspects then the rationale was about a different political strategy. The desire of Prime Minister John Key, cabinet strategist Murray McCully and senior party wallahs to win back and keep the metro-liberal vote. The vote that most naturally sides with Labour.
Ad Feedback Metro-liberals are, by definition, cause-oriented for one simple reason. They can afford to be. They are generally better educated, earn more money, and are thus able to insulate themselves against the harsher components of Kiwi life. They live in comfortable suburbs and their children attend higher decile schools.
They are a section of the population which has been lost to National for more than 30 years. Rob Muldoon drove them away deliberately, the Springbok tour effectively corralled them in Labour's camp, and the anti-nuclear policies of David Lange and Helen Clark kept them there.
It now seems a deliberate strategy of National to woo and win them back. Key made giant inroads by accommodating the Maori Party in his coalition administration and by sticking with the absurd Emissions Trading Scheme. Or at least, its substance. Party strategists clearly divined the mining issue as becoming the latest liberal cause.
Even though it is daft. This country has the capacity to enter the mining industry, either through state-owned enterprises or public-private ventures, and do a lot better than just clipping the ticket. It has the ability to tap into such significant financial wealth that it could sustain the welfare state for another generation and actually provide first-world health services.
But no. We're going to leave the good stuff in the ground. Forever. As this country plots its inexorable descent down the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED) ladder, and heads for the purgatory that rests between the advanced nations and the third world.
Ah, but at least we'll have lots of nice native trees and shrubs to look at. Millions of them. Probably billions.
Yes, it is convenient that the Australians have their vast mineral wealth placed in places where nobody wants to go. We don't have that luxury. Our wealth is in areas that we love. Even if we love them by default – most of us never having been anywhere near the prospecting land in question.
Certainly, modern mining techniques are not the invasive scouring that is the Martha's monstrosity near Thames. Although, even if it was, the impact would be extraordinarily minor in the overall landscape that is encompassed by Schedule 4. The point is that the mining industry has grown up and gone green too.
Green, but not stupid. No, that is the peculiarity of the metro-liberals and last week's National cabinet. So when they next wail about our need to live within our means, do point them to the Coromandel. And point out that our means could be so much greater, but for this past week's appalling backsliding.
Could not have said that better myself.
Except, Mr Laws is smarter than me. Not that, that doesn't go without saying, but i never would have thought of there being an agenda behind this week's outcome. I just assumed John Key was a pussy, that had backed down because less than 1% of our population had gotten out their crayons, made signs, and marched up Queen St.
Silly me, for not giving Key more credit.