Govt destroys jobs

14/07/2021

How frustrating is this?

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has shut down a West Coast goldmining exploration venture that was injecting $500,000 a year into the local economy and according to the miner had the potential to create 12 well-paid jobs.

Peter Morrison, who owns farms in Canterbury and on the West Coast, has invested about $2 million over the past year, looking for gold – and finding it – on a 500ha block he owns near Inangahua Junction.

Morrison was working under an exploration permit, employing three skilled operators and local contractors on the 1ha site to evaluate the potential for a full-scale alluvial mine.

“We applied a year ago for a mining permit but we’re still waiting … in the meantime we’ve been doing the feasibility work … trying to work out if it would be economic to go all in.”

A year to process a permit? Isn’t MBIE supposed to be encouraging business?

But after being told by MBIE he was breaching the exploration permit and threatened with massive fines, Morrison has been forced to pull the plug.

“This has been going on for months … I’ve had my lawyer look at it and he can’t see what this alleged breach is — all they say is that the hole’s too big,” Morrison said.

Neither of the two local councils have a problem.

The Buller District Council and West Coast Regional Council both said there were no issues with the land use and resource consents they issued for the site, and Morrison had paid the required surety bond.

But after more pressure from officials two weeks ago Morrison reluctantly laid off his three staff.

“I’m sorry to lose them, they were a very skilled team. I doubt I’ll get them back. And those were $100,000 a year jobs.”

Four MBIE officials had turned up twice in one week and been “very aggressive”, he said.

“They walked around looking grim and grilling my staff and saying it was pretty big for an exploration. But it’s just a tiny fraction of the 500ha permit,” Morrison said. . . 

If anyone’s got grounds for looking grim it is Morrison and his staff.

“We’ve kept all the records, we’ve complied with all our resource consents — and we’ve been harassed out of business.

“They just keep saying it’s too big … the biggest exploration site ever seen in New Zealand. But the exploration permit doesn’t set any size or volume limit. And if they want me to have a mining permit, well they’ve had a year to process the application and so far — nothing.”

An MBIE spokesman said Morrison’s application for a mining permit was being evaluated but there was a backlog of applications.

“There was a sizeable increase in the number of applications for all permit types last year, especially in the wake of the lifting of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. Applications for gold-related permits really took off, largely driven by a high gold price.” . . 

The number of bureaucrats in Wellington has increased markedly since Labour got into government. If only some could be working on applications like this to help businesses and employment.

The permit queue had grown rapidly in the last few months of 2020, and officials were trying to deal with it as quickly as possible, the spokesman said.

But Morrison’s application has been in for more than a year.

The ministry did not explain precisely how Morrison had broken the rules, but said exploration permits allowed data gathering over small, specific areas to test if the resource was commercially viable. . . 

When they didn’t explain, was that because they couldn’t or wouldn’t? Either way it’s an appalling way to treat a business.

Inangahua Community Board chairman John Bougen is calling on the ministry to explain exactly why it shut down the venture.

It was deeply disappointing to have a potentially productive private enterprise closed by officials from afar, in a community that badly needed industry and employment, the Reefton businessman said.

“These were high-paying jobs for skilled workers, and MBIE has just pulled about half a million dollars in wages a year out of our community, when you count the contractors as well.”

The West Coast is one of the areas most in need of economic stimulus in the country.

The government, and its employees, should be doing everything possible to help businesses, not shutting them down.

“Pete Morrison was investing in our community and we need to encourage new industry, not strangle it with red tape,” Cr Bougen said.

Buller Mayor Jamie Cleine said he would be concerned if Morrison’s operation had been shut down unnecessarily.

“You would assume the ministry had good reason; that there had been a breach of the permit or whatever.”

A ministry spokesman confirmed the permit Morrison was working under did not limit the size of the operation, but he believed officials were concerned that mining was taking place rather than exploration.

If the permit didn’t limit the size of the operation, where’s the breach?

National Party list MP Maureen Pugh said the shutdown was the worst possible news for the community and was avoidable.

“It’s a disgraceful outcome and I’m truly sorry for Mr Morrison, that he’s been treated this way — plus we have lost jobs, not something we can afford to have happen on the West Coast.”

The permit process had been a challenge for many miners for years, Pugh said.

“It is becoming more and more obvious that the Government and its ministries are not performing well and as I see it, there are no consequences for poor performance, so standards slip.” . . 

Any private business that treated its clients like this wouldn’t survive.

The Ministry is under no threat but it’s poor performance has killed off a business and the highly skilled jobs it supported.

This is a very sorry example of so much that’s wrong with the government and its entities.


The Road to Castle Hill

26/10/2009

 If you judged The Road to Castle Hill by it’s cover you’d think it was the story of high country farming.

It is, but it’s much more than that.

Christine Fernyhough’s story is not just about how she came to buy Castle Hill Station and learned to farm it. It’s also the story of her involvement with the books in homes programe and the gifted kids programes which grew from that.

The book shows us the challenges Christine faced, including those with tenure review. She also has some very good thoughts on bridging the town-country divide.

I’ve heard Christine speak twice, she’s a delight to listen to and this book is a delight to read. Louise Callan helped with the writing and the words are enhanced by John Bougen’s photos.

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Post 26 in the post a day for New Zealand Book Month challenge

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Deborah at In a Strange Land posts on The Witch in the Cherry Tree by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Jenny Williams.

Rob posts on Greg McGee’s Tall Tales, Some True  and Memories of Muldoon by Bob Jones.


Ben & Mark Boys of the High Country

30/09/2009

A generation ago most people who weren’t from farms had friends or family who were.

That is no longer the case and to many city kids, rural New Zealand might as well be another country.

A newly released book, by Christine Fernyhough and John Bougen aims to change that.

Ben & Mark, Boys of the High Country, is the story of the real day to day lives of Ben and Mark Smith of Mount White Station in Canterbury.

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Damming the creek, catching tadpoles and cockabullies, mustering on foot and horse back, helping in the shearing shed or stock yards, and pig hunting are common place for nine year old Ben and eight year old Mark.

Christine’s words and John’s photos portray these and other aspects of high country life for city kids who’ve never been off a tar sealed road.

Christine chooses simple terms to describe Ben and Mark’s activities and the station which is their 40,000 hectare home –  she explains is nearly as big as 60,000 rugby fields put together.

John uses his knowledge of the people and places to good effect in capturing the day to day life and seasonal routines. While the book is about the boys, the photos also highlight the beauty of the land. The blurb on the cover says the photos are stunning, and they are.

Although the book is aimed at children  it will appeal to adults too, whether it’s read from cover to cover or left on the coffee table to be dipped in to.

Ben & Mark Boys of the High Country by Christine Fernyhough and John Bougen. Published by Random House. $36.99.


High country love story booksellers’ choice

21/07/2008

The Road to Castle Hill , A High Country Love Story written by Christine Fernyhough with Louise Callan, has won the Booksellers’ Choice Award.

The award was decided by booksellers who vote for the book they most enjoyed selling this year. Castle Hill has been in the top 200 bestsellers for 40 weeks, and was the best-selling book on the shortlist of 10.

The book tells of the highs and lows of learning to run a farm at some of the highest elevations in the South Island. Since the book was released, Fernyhough has been busy promoting it and speaking to groups about her experiences.

“People are so responsive, wanting to know about farming, DoC, how I’m still managing – it’s just a pleasure.”

Fernyhough has had a busy year. A heifer left her with a badly broken leg, she had a record-breaking drought to deal with, and she got married in April to her business partner and the book’s photographer, John Bougen, at the Castle Hill dog trials.

The book recounts Fernyhough’s many learning experiences after she moved from Remuera to the Canterbury High Country and also tells of her work with the Books in Schools and Gifted Kids programmes.

It’s a great read which appeals to men and women from town and country. Through it and her many public appearances in the wake of it, Christine has also become a valued advocate for farmers and farming.

A complaint from her about DOC or the steep rise in rents for pastoral leasehold land is much more likely to strike a chord with the public than it would if it comes from the usual farming lobby groups.


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