Photo Credits: Seabed Minerals Authority - Pukapuka Public Consultations 2018
The Seabed Minerals Authority (Authority) has recently received enquiries into the Seabed Minerals (SBM) Act 2019 and its legislative process. The Authority welcomes these queries as it presents another opportunity to share again with the public, the process that was undertaken.
It is important to emphasise that the SBM Bill had been under continuous review for a number of years by the Authority, as part of improving upon the previous Seabed Minerals Act 2009, with the Authority receiving external international assistance and advice.
The Deputy Prime Minister, Hon. Mark Brown explained, “We have received the best legal and technical advice from the Commonwealth Secretariat and Pacific Community (SPC) to further improve our national legal and regulatory framework for our seabed minerals sector. In addition, we have had the expert legislative drafting assistance of the New Zealand Parliamentary Counsel’s Office in developing our new Bill, based on best, international industry and environmental practice.”
In early 2018, the Deep Sea Minerals Working Group (made up of several government agencies including the Authority, National Environment Service, Marae Moana, Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Immigration, Ministry of Finance and Economic Management, Crown Law Office and the Cook Islands Investment Corporation) became involved in reviewing the Bill internally before its release to the public. Public consultations on the Bill began in October 2018 and continued through to April 2019, a period of half a year.
The public consultations were extensive and comprehensive, undertaken throughout Rarotonga and the Pa Enua. There were consultations held for the public generally, as well as specific consultation with stakeholders including Aronga Mana, Religious Advisory Council, Opposition leaders, NGOs, Marae Moana TAG & Council, international academics and the industry.
The Bill was seen as a great improvement to the 2009 Act, for example streamlining the licensing process and importantly ensuring the legislation was in line with the Marae Moana Act and key environmental principles such as the precautionary approach were included.
The feedback received during the public consultations was that while there was a good deal of support for harvesting our seabed minerals resource, it was equally important to ensure best environmental practices were applied in doing so.
As a result of the constructive feedback from these consultations, further revisions were made to the SBM Bill, in particular to strengthening the decision-making process and improving transparency.
The Seabed Minerals Act 2019 was subsequently passed on 17 June 2019, and represents the culmination and incorporation of international best practice
and legislation which has evolved continuously since the last Cook Islands Seabed Minerals Act was passed over a decade ago.
With the new Act now in place, the Authority, along with the Deep Sea Minerals Working Group, is continuing the ongoing and careful development of the seabed minerals sector to ensure that there is a robust regulatory, environmental and financial SBM framework in place. Community feedback will be considered and taken into account at each phase of the sector’s development.
The seabed minerals sector has the potential to provide vital economic security for the Cook Islands people and our way of life, and lessening the almost total reliance it has on the tourism sector, and the associated vulnerability this brings to the threats of natural disaster and climate change. At the same time, through this new emerging industry, the Cook Islands will be able to provide much needed metal elements crucial to the global renewable energy and electric vehicle demands thus playing our part in helping to reduce carbon emissions.
Brown supports the ongoing development of the seabed minerals sector, stating “Seabed minerals is a potentially transformational sector for the benefit of our people, and could provide the means for the Cook Islands to take responsibility for its own resilience funding, and to protect the country from the impacts of climate change.”