How to taint a brand

by Daniel Batten on May 5, 2010

I recently was sent a link to comment on proposed legislation changes that would open the way for mining of various New Zealand National Parks.

I decided this was worth commenting on. To be honest, I didn’t  think that the default text written there was useful. Starting with “I strongly disagree” is not the way to try to convince anyone of anything.

It also argued along the traditional “this is bad for the ecology” lines. It will take a stronger argument than that to win the day for reason. So I wrote something from the heart – grounded by common sense. I encourage anyone who feels the same to speak their truth and make a submission too.

But please – before you write, make sure you are not feeling any “righteous indignation”. Imagine you are talking to a friend of yours who has just come up with an idea that doesn’t quite make sense this time – and you are writing a letter to urge them to rethink. Think about the way you like people to talk to you.

The Govt is no different. And real personable communication gets heard where righteousness gets binned. My full submission is below:

(PS: maybe it was coincidence – but within 2 days of my open letter to the ASB hitting the front page of, the ASB unilaterally pulled the plug on the “we are a kiwi bank” campaign. Your comments and feedback would have been what did it.)

I have been giving thought to the government’s proposal to remove “protected areas” from Schedule 4; which would allow exploration and mining activities.

I also understand that Schedule 4 was originally put in place by the National government in 1997.

I further understand that proposed removals from Schedule 4 are:

– The Inangahua sector of Paparoa National Park

– The Otahu Ecological Area in the Coromandel – Parakawai Geological Area in the Coromandel

– The additional seven areas in the Coromandel Peninsula totalling 2,574 hectares

– 705 hectares of the Te Ahumata Plateau are on Great Barrier Islan.

On one hand, there is strong and immediate commercial opportunity to be gained through extending the scope of areas mined in New Zealand. This is particularly the case at a time where China’s appetite for raw materials has never been greater.

On the other hand, part of what overseas friends and business associates tell be is unique about New Zealand is that “we haven’t yet ruined our natural beauty”. I am sure there would also be the ecological consequences.

As an entrepreneur, I support enterprise and spotting trends and responding to business opportunity. I also support government policy that creates a better business environment by lowering business taxes, simplifying the process of running a business, and I support 90-day trial periods at work.

However, before I am an entrepreneur, I am a New Zealander. The things I hold dear are the same as the things that the world holds us dear for: our natural beauty, the fact we stood up to the world on issues that matter such as becoming nuclear-free, and our  integrity.  (I believe we are #1= most honest nation in the world along with Finland).
…And yes, I get a patriotic tear in my eye when I see the breath-taking scenery, (normally in dispersed with a few hobbits) at the movies.

I realize of course that the Southern Alps wont stop being beautiful because of mining.

I realize of course that the mining is “surgical”.

I realize that while I have been to the Coromandel and Great Barrier, and owned property on Great Barrier too – that I have probably never ventured to the specific areas where mining is proposed.

But that is not the point.

The point is perception and the potential for irrevocable damage to our brand, our image and our integrity in the eyes of the world.

I believe that the way New Zealand is perceived in the world will be fundamentally and irrevocably compromised if mining is to go ahead in this country.

Already, disgruntled grumbling poms are publishing documentaries saying “NZ 100% Pure – Yeah Right!” To date, we have been able to parry the thrust as the blunt sabres of grumbling poms. Afterall, they do not understand the devastation possums cause to the bush – and the need to control them to protect our natural beauty even if this means that cyanide is apparently required to do so.

I believe this is the argument used by D.O.C when such overseas objections to our Clean Green Status are parried at the heart of our fair shores.

But how would we challenge someone in the UK writing a documentary saying “New Zealand – underneath its clean-green exterior is doing something that we thought only the previous Bush-administration was capable of: passing legislation that would pave the way for it to mine National Parks”? That’s a question worth thinking about.

The documentary would go on to point out that we were mining coal.

It would go on to point out our hypocrisy because in the past we’d said “protect our bush at all costs from the possums” but now it was clear that we were only interested in protecting native bush if there wasn’t coal underneath that could be sold to the Chinese.

I don’t think the potential downstream risk to the way the world perceives us has been very carefully thought through or quantified. I’m not only taking about the tangible effect on the tourist dollar: I’m talking about the fact that its hard to feel good about yourself as a nation when you know that you are not authentic; that you are not real; that something that was once worn as a badge of honour was now little more than a marketing pitch that was starting to wear thin on a world that was wising up to us fast.

New Zealand already performs worse at Australia at sport and the economy. The areas where we can hold our heads high is in our better treatment of our indigenous people, and our environment.

That leaves us at about “2 all”. Start mining our national parks, and the score will be “3-1”. So when I reflect about this, I can see that such a move as mining our national parks could lower the esteem of our whole nation – in the eyes of the world yes, but more importantly in the eyes of ourselves.

When I reflect on the Australian, American and English people I know who have migrated to New Zealand, they all have said that it is “safety, the natural beauty and the outdoors” that made them move here. Now, of course all those things will still be the case even if mining goes ahead.

But that is not the point.

It is perception that matters. Afterall, Volvo is not technically the world’s safest car, but it is perceived as such. BWMs are not the world’s most reliable engineering, but they are perceived as such.

Mining New Zealand national parks, would be like Volvo saying they want to use a lower grade of steel in their car construction. While this pose have no significant additional threat to the lives of passengers – the damage to their brand would be irrevocable.

Saying that New Zealand can be mined surgically, whether it can or not, is already getting a “yeah right” response. It is like saying that bone from my finger can be surgically removed from my body. I’m sure it can. And I’m sure that I would still be able to do most of what I do today after the operation. I’m sure it would be a barely visible scare. But I would rather have all my bone in tact, thank you.  ‘

In summary:

I believe in business opportunities, but not ones focused on short-term gain that run a legitimate and measurable risk of irrevocably damaging a brand: not just any brand – the brand of us as a nation.

So I don’t think this makes any business sense.

I believe in New Zealanders being able to continue to hold dear our core values, one of which is our respect for our natural beauty.

So mining national parks for profit does not make sense in terms of our national self esteem.

I believe in New Zealand being perceived positively by the rest of the world. They say we worry too much about what others think about us – but that is part of who we are too.

And the current thrusts at our Clean Green Image that are currently being successfully parried would become a self-inflicted stab to our nature-loving hearts should we decide to mine the heart of our country. And the weapon to have inflicted this would would have been none other than the sabre of greed.

I believe I speak for the majority of New Zealanders, whether capitalist or socialist, whether professional protesters or urbanites who never go bush but like the feel-good factor that we have it and look after it – will share these sentiments.

Yours faithfully

Daniel Batten


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May 5, 2010 at 2:19 pm

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Colin May 5, 2010 at 11:16 pm

Said from your heart, Daniel, nice one.

I am an ecologist at heart and in this case I would certainly not dismiss ecology so flippantly.
The ecology of the areas in which New Zealand’s National government are proposing to open up for mining IS significant as are the recreational and aesthetic values.
THAT’S WHY THEY ARE NATIONAL PARKS – protected for the prosperity of all New Zealanders and visitors alike and for the benefit of our children and grandchildren, not for a greedy few.

I agree with your sentiments that we need to take a different path to that which the rest of the world has taken – one of destruction and desecration of nature and I would dearly like all New Zealanders to realise how precious is this land which God has provided for us TO LOOK AFTER.

Further regarding values I wholeheartedly agree with you about the clear agenda and motive of the shortsighted idea of opening these areas for mining being that of pure greed.

It is clear from your letter that these values you hold are paramount even over an above being an entrepreneur.
To me this is an aspect of a true entrepreneur.

Thank you Daniel for the opportunity to share with you and I am willing to continue this dialogue if it can be fruitful.

Nick May 17, 2010 at 7:25 pm

That’s a though provoking post. I think you make a strong case and given your obvious talents for speaking and presentation I reckon you should ask to speak to the select committee in support of your submission.

Daniel Batten May 27, 2010 at 10:10 am

Good points Colin about the reason they are National Parks being because of their ecological value in the first place.

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