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Scoop Opinion: $100 million is not enough!

If any New Zealander truly thinks the West Coast is being treated fairly by this Government offering us a $100 million one-off cash offer, then this is a country I no longer want to live in. Scoop's West Coast correspondent John Howard writes.

I have now seen some professionally prepared figures which show the economic loss of stopping the sustainable harvest of indigenous timber over the whole of the West Coast Crown-estate.

Suffice to say, on a per capita basis greater Auckland has a population 40 times greater than the West Coast.

The Government's $100 million dollar offer to us, if applied to Auckland, would mean $14 billion of economic opportunity removed from its region and around 8,000 full time jobs.

Would Auckland accept that? - I doubt it. Would the Government dare do it? - I very much doubt it.

The sustainable harvest of indigenous timber is valued at $356 million from the figures I have seen. So as a comparison let the Government now tell Taranaki and the rest of New Zealand it can't have its recent oil and natural gas discoveries.

The West Coast, with 32,000 population over a land area as large as between Auckland and Wellington, is at the lower-end of the socio-economic scale of New Zealand and, I understand, our people die two years earlier than the rest of New Zealand.

Why is that? We really don't know, and worse, the Government hasn't done a socio-economic impact study on the West Coast to justify its end-logging decisions and the impacts it will have on our people.

Around 85% of West Coast land is already locked-up in Crown and conservation estate. So already we don't have enough land of our own to plant new forests to earn income even if we wanted to - and we do. But now the Government wants more.

For too long, we have been marginalised away from general society and this money won't fix it. The offer, in dollar terms, means that each West Coaster would get around $3,000 if it were divided up.

By comparison Coasters, like many other New Zealanders, received just over $2,000 from the forced sale of our power company. This sort of puts the Government's offer into perspective doesn't it?

No doubt about it, we are being marginalised. Minister of Conservation, Sandra Lee, when launching the Biodiversity Strategy in Wellington Wednesday said, " The most important message to take from this success (saving the Pohutukawa) is that by working together at the local community level, it is possible to tackle the most difficult problems. It is a message that I would commend to some on the West Coast."

Never mind the truth that we, as a whole West Coast community, on at least three occasions in writing that I am aware of, have been trying to get government to work alongside us and talk to us since November last. They simply wouldn't respond or talk to us.

And isn't it really strange that we still have most of our forests left on the West Coast while most of the rest of New Zealand doesn't.

Yet we are painted as bad conservationists. Gee, we must have been really bad conservationists over the last 100 years to have all those forests left.

Fact is, we are bloody good conservationists but our communities are being marginalised from other New Zealanders by, in my opinion, unworthy statements like Ms Lee's. But I guess it suits the political and electoral purpose, doesn't it?

The rhetoric of the greens is very similar, which is even worse, because they are supposed to care - the end result, however, is marginalising a community or people. Even the newspaper cartoonists have had their slag - fair game it seems we are.

Can I respectfully request the nation cast its mind back to Germany in 1933, some years before the Holocaust started in earnest - and compare statements, cartoons and behaviour's then against homosexuals, gypsies, the so-called "political" incorrect misfits and the Jews. You might get a surprise.

"Why do they hate us," was a comment I heard the other day - from an 8 year-old Coast girl. And we wonder why our New Zealand kids become violent when they grow up.

The Government now says that if we don't accept their offer then they'll legislate our rights away which we have under the West Coast Accord contract. Charming, that must give every New Zealander one hell of a lot of confidence in their new Government - like, who is next?

I wouldn't be a public servant or a businessman in this country at the present time for all the tea in China.

Sure, times change and we accept that. But we are harvesting timber sustainably according to the Parliamentary law of this land, and our new beech scheme was also said to be sustainable.

Although the beech sustainability can't be proved because the December resource consent hearing, even though it had already started, was subsequently stopped before any scientific evidence could be heard. That meant we were even denied the chance of a sustainable future.

For me, this raises a very serious question which should concern all New Zealanders.

What would happen if in the future a medical discovery was made with which the Government doesn't agree - will it stop the scientific evidence from being heard? Serious question? Absolutely.

Moreover, why would anybody now want to sign up to a voluntary agreement to protect biodiversity on their private land? This is one of the Government’s main environment goals.

Could we now trust them to honour that agreement?

I certainly hope so, but on the evidence so far, I'm not 100% convinced.

A recent Reuters newswire story said it cost this country $46 million to break the F-16 aircraft contract - $12 million to break the contract but another $34 million because Lockheed had already started to refurbish the aircraft.

OK, fine, we don't have anything to show for it, but we did it - but doesn't that sort of put Government's offer to the West Coast into better perspective?

Yesterday, the West Coast Mayors met with Finance Minister Michael Cullen and Minister for Economic Development, Jim Anderton in Wellington. They are to meet again in May.

And my advice to the Ministers? Slow down and think, you're getting the speed wobbles.


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