Most New Zealanders will support mining on conservation land if the Government can prove it will benefit the country, Prime Minister John Key says.
Proposals released last week to remove 7058 hectares of protected land from schedule four of the Crown Minerals Act are raising intense debate, and the Government will make final decisions after six weeks of public discussion.
Asked at his post-cabinet press conference today whether the Government might decide not to mine any of the proposed areas, Mr Key said that was "a possibility" but he believed there was potential for the mining industry to expand.
"New Zealand already has extensive mining activities," he said.
"There are three tests that have to be met if we are going to extend those activities -- we need to demonstrate there will be increased investment and jobs, we need to prove that the economic benefits will largely stay in New Zealand, and we need to prove we can sustainably mine the areas we are promoting."
Mr Key said those three issues would be at the core of the discussions over the next six weeks.
"I think the bulk of New Zealanders will, in broad terms, apply those three tests," he said.
"If there's enough in it for New Zealand, if we make enough money out of it and if we can do it in an environmentally sustainable way, I think the bulk of New Zealanders will support it."
The proposed areas are on Great Barrier Island, in the Coromandel and in Paparoa National Park.
Whether they were actually mined would depend on decisions by mining companies, Mr Key said.
"It's always possible they won't be interested -- mining companies will only progress these areas if they think its economically viable and they can make money.
"But it's my sense that given the mineral wealth of New Zealand, and if those opportunities are there, they will take them."
Mr Key said it was possible that Solid Energy, the state-owned coal mining company, could become involved in extended mining.
"It's already a very large miner, and 100 per cent government-owned," he said.
"It's a possibility they could have an expanded role in the future but it's too early to tell."