KASM chairman steps down – but Greener pastures still beckon

He’s feeling tired and in need of a break, but Raglan greenie Phil McCabe has a fear of missing out!

So while he has recently resigned as chairman of Kiwis Against Seabed Mining, just as the community action group gears up for another big fight, he has signed up as the Green Party candidate for the Hunua electorate.

“It’s FOMO,” explains Phil, who has been in the driver’s seat of KASM for five years, seeing off two applications for seabed mining.

For this general election, his candidacy is not an attempt to get into Parliament, he stresses – he’s just putting his name on the ticket to support the Greens so they can get more party votes.

Running for Parliament “really is a big maybe, like maybe after a three-year break”.

So at the moment, he’s “not really up to it but officially I am”.

Phil’s decision to resign as chairman of KASM was not an easy one to make, but “I knew I had to do it”.

He had originally planned to stop in December 2015 but then Trans Tasman Resources lodged another application to mine the South Taranaki Bight and he agreed to run that process, which took about a year longer than thought.

“To have done it justice, it takes a lot of time,” he says of the time consuming job of fighting for our marine environment.

As a consequence, he’s been absent a lot  – “absent minded and physically absent” – in his family life and the running of Solscape, the eco camp that he owns with partner Bernadette Gavin.

“Solscape has been running without my input for the past 18 months.

“It’s good to have time for family and stuff.”

On Thursday last week, KASM, with Greenpeace, lodged an appeal against the Environment Protection Agency’s decision to green light Trans Tasman Resource’s seabed mining proposal for the South Taranaki Bight.

Phil says it feels strange not to be at the centre of what has gone on with the lodging of the appeal.

While he’s been engaging a bit in the appeal process, “personally, it’s the fact I am not responsible for it, that’s the load off. It felt like a really large responsibility, and it’s good to be far from that.

“It’s a bit like pulling off a band aid, but it’s getting easier.”

Instead of dealing with all the media phone calls and working with lawyers on points of appeal, he’s been surfing a lot. This week he headed off to Bali for a five-week surf trip on his own, a holiday that was planned in January and just happened to coincide with his resignation.

Phil grew up in Taupo where he was an outdoors kid who always had a concern for nature, including the health of the lake.

He moved to Raglan in the 1990s and it was here that he became heavily involved in environmental issues.

“It goes back to – and we never met – but Eva Rickard and that stand, that strength and knowing that things need to happen and it’s the right thing, and if you are not going to do it then who is?”

With Bernadette he created Solscape as a “creative space to do positive things”, while KASM “has been the flip side – stopping bad shit” from happening.

Phil got involved with KASM in 2012 with “zero experience”, after bumping into an original member at Wainui Reserve, above the beach.

“He said ‘it’s happening now, the company is coming’ … he caught me at the right time and dragged me to the meeting and I got a sense that there was a need for this.”

His first action was leading a silent protest through the streets of Raglan, converging on the one-way bridge to confront a seabed-mining executive from TTR.

At the time, Stephen Frew was chair, and “he needed a break like I do now”, so Phil stepped up to the helm.

“I am so grateful for the opportunity to have done what I have done to have been part of that and learned so much.

“I feel it is a full on tertiary education but I don’t think there is a course in that.”

Phil says he’s so proud of what KASM has managed to achieve, seeing off the first two applications to mine the seabed.

And it makes sense that he has aligned himself with the Green Party, as they have said they will stop seabed mining, create New Zealand’s largest mammal sanctuary to protect blue whales off the south Taranaki coast and support a moratorium on seabed mining.

“They have a strong environmental base, the only party that has a focus on a healthy environment,” says Phil.

Phil got in with the Greens after a trip to Parliament in June, when he appeared before the Local Government and Environment Select Committee urging a halt on seabed mining until a better understanding of the risks and impacts was known.

There he met Green MP Gareth Hughes, and mentioned to him that he liked the work they did.

Gareth urged him to stand for the Hunua electorate, as it did not have a Green candidate, and “I said no I’m done, I need a break!”

But in the end he agreed to stand just to help with party votes.

“I wont be campaigning … I will do a couple of interviews, just to try and help them get a few more party votes.

“If the Greens are in government alongside Labour then we will see stronger environmental policies coming through, that will occur.”

As for the future, he admits that the political scene does have a certain appeal.

At the moment, he may be feeling a bit burnt out, and the frustrations that come with fighting for the marine environment must take their toll – especially when a decision-making committee tasked to favour caution gives an experimental seabed mining industry the go ahead. After a previous application, that was not much different, was turned down due to environmental concerns.

So while Phil’s usual even-handed approach is to “just go into a room by yourself when you are in those moods”, for now he requires a bit more time.

But in the end, he doesn’t buy into the thinking “that shit is going to get worse”.

“Because it’s not a nice place to sit and how can we feel empowered to change it if we view it as an inevitability.

“Those two KASM wins that we had, that just showed me 100 per cent that anything is possible. No one ever thought that we would win those cases.”

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