• Rio Tinto Looms Over Te Ika a Maui

last modified December 17, 2012 by strypey

Danyl Strypes comments on the multinational mining company Rio Tinto's recent air surveying of the west coast of Te Ika a Maui, the northern island of Aotearoa.

According to an article in the NZ Herald, a survey plane was flying over prospective mining areas off the west coast on Wednesday. The plane was paid for Rio Tinto, a multinational mining empire infamous in the pacific for environmental destruction and the suppression of indigenous people in the vicinity of its operations, such as the Panguna copper mine on the island of Bougainville.

Rio Tinto also owns Comalco, which runs the Tiwai Point aluminion smelter near Bluff, at the bottom of Te Wai Pounamu, the south island. This smelter is the single largest user of electricity in the country, much like their Bay Bell smelter in Tasmania which uses around 40% of the state's electricity. Aluminium is used mainly for vehicle parts, building supplies and food packaging. All uses which could potentially be avoided and other materials substituted.

Do we really need to put so much electricity into smelting aluminium, with the associated production of greenhouse gases? Certainly it is in Rio Tinto's interests to convince us that we do and the minerals industry are well aware of their need to sell themselves to the public.

On the other side of the argument are environmental groups like Kiwis Against Seabed Mining and Māori groups concerned about damage to the landscape and life-supporting capacity of the coast. Karl Flavell of Ngati Te Ata told the Herald the iwi had not even been approached about the survey. Clearly Rio Tinto are trying to quietly get their foot in the door before activists can publicly challenge them on their shameful lack of environmental and social responsibility in previous and current operations.

That this news comes out within a week of my last commentary on the use of the seabed for electricity generation is ironic. As with the marine power and aquaculture issues, the right to make final decisions on whether these powerful business interests will be allowed to proceed was claimed by the NZ state, when they passed legislation asserting their unconditional ownership of the foreshore and seabed. Now it seems only careful monitoring and targeted public pressure can prevent the raping of our marine environments for private profit.


Originally Published on Aotearoa.Indymedia.org (June, 2007)