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Loggers Make UN Appeal

On the eve of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s visit to New Zealand, West Coasters are planning to ask UNESCO to independently scrutinise the Government’s native forest decisions. John Howard reports.

“The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) based in Paris, receives communications from individuals and groups who complain that their human rights under the UNESCO Constitution have been violated,” said Barry Nicolle, chairman of West Coast lobby group, Coast Action Network.

He says the rights falling within UNESCO’s competence is the right to share in scientific advancement, the right to self determination, and the right to economic equity.

“Mr Nicolle said, “There are other UN treaties and conventions which New Zealand has also ratified that guarantee rights to share in the benefits of the resources of a country.”

“The government has made decisions about West Coast beech harvesting which is not based on adequate scientific evidence and they deliberately allowed a lawful resource consent hearing to be stopped which prevented balanced scientific evidence being heard from several world-recognised experts,” he said

“I have also spoken to lawyers and they cannot recall a case where a Government has directed a State-owned enterprise to alter its statement of corporate intent. That was done within three days of the shareholding Minister’s being sworn-in so it can hardly have been properly informed, focused and considered decision-making,” Mr Nicolle said.

“ Clearly, West Coast communities have been denied the right to share in the benefits of scientific advancements in timber harvesting which effectively removed our right to internal self determination and economic equity,” he said

The previous National Government gave approval for sustainable and selective harvesting of beech timber on 24 August 1999.

“But Labour, on entering into a coalition Government, overturned that decision and in doing so, disregarded last year’s certification by the Department of Conservation and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry that the Timberlands beech scheme met the sustainability criteria of the Forests Act,” he said.

Mr Nicolle said, “The Crown Company Monitoring Advisory Unit and Treasury officials also considered that the Timberlands business case was conservative and economically viable.”

Timberlands was to harvest by helicopter, on average, one tree per hectare, per year.

Mr Nicolle says, “On December 6, a week before Labour Ministers were sworn-in, the Department of Conservation asked the Buller District Council to defer Timberlands beech resource hearing. This raised hackles on the Coast that DOC was acting on behalf of a Government in-waiting. Coasters remain perplexed how Timberlands executive, Kit Richards, was forced into resigning over his statements while DOC staff, who still have jobs, appeared to be working against the exisiting policies of National government Ministers who were still lawfully in power.”

“That issue has to be resolved by the Government if Helen Clark’s outrage over Kit Richards is to have any credibility on the Coast.” Mr Nicolle said

“The beech scheme is said to be worth $30 million annually to the West Coast and New Zealand economy. However, the new Government’s West Coast economic package is said to be worth around $70 million in total.”

Mr Nicolle said, “As part of that package the Government wants to give the West Coast the Crown’s pine forests, but it seems they haven’t considered the uncertain economic outlook for pine and the hundreds of thousands of hectares of Russian pine about to come on to world markets and there are Maori claims on West Coast resources as well.”

“Furthermore, New Zealand is not that rich that it can afford to forego revenues from selective sustainable harvest of its native timber unless, of course, Government intends to maintain just a basic standard of social services or increase taxes to compensate.”

“To the best of my knowledge, New Zealand is the only country in the world that does not allow sustainable use of some of its publicly-owned native timber resources,” Mr Nicolle said

“I cannot understand how the Government is able to stop the beech harvesting which, by international and New Zealand law definitions, is sustainable. And I can’t understand how native wildlife only resides in indigenous forests. If that’s their serious science and decision-making, so is the story of Cinderella,” he said

The Labour Party went into the election with the policy of stopping all harvest of native trees on Crown-owned land.

“But we were electing a Parliament, not a Government and the Government is responsible to the Parliament” Mr Nicolle says. “Labour appears to have already forgotten they are a minority government with a different forestry election policy to their Alliance coalition partner. The record shows that people don’t vote on one issue in isolation either, so claiming a mandate is a shakey argument for a minority government.”

“The Government is not above international and domestic law and it would be inconceivable that New Zealander’s voted on the expectation that it would act as if it is,” he said.

“Native timber is a renewable resource whereas oil and plastics made from oil, are non-renewable. If this was a government with consistent policies it would also stop oil and plastics imports. And if it was a responsible Government, it would most certainly stop the import of products made from rainforest timber clear-felled in other countries. But it picks on West Coast workers and wants to put them on welfare,” he said.

“Government has not consulted with the West Coast communities on any of this and it refuses to do so. The way forward, apart from a court case, is to have an independent international organisation scrutinise the Government’s decisions and UNESCO is the appropriate forum. At this point it is not about the trees, it is about justice, responsible government and properly focused decision-making.” Mr Nicolle concluded.

Meanwhile, West Coast Mayors are to meet with legal advisors tomorrow and timber milling interests will have their day in the High Court on March 6.

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