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Coasters Rally Against The End Of Native Logging

The gods seemed to be on the side of West Coasters today when heavy rain stopped as 5,000 people marched in Greymouth to protest over Government's indigenous forest policies, to call for Labour MP Damien O'Connor's resignation and to pass resolutions. John Howard reports.

With a population of just 32,000, the rally is being described as the biggest protest march on the West Coast for over 50 years.

Around 5,000 West Coasters, including school children and babies in pushchairs, wended their way from Greymouth's railway station to rally at Victoria Park, a distance of around one kilometer.

The marchers stepped off at 9.30 am just as the heavy over-night rain stopped and the sun broke through. And just as the rally concluded at 12.30pm, the rain started once again. To the marchers, it was almost a message from on high.

The march, led by members of lobby groups from as far away as Westport, Hokitika, South Westland and Christchurch, also consisted of about 30 trucks and other vehicles representing the timber, coal, gold, food, moss and fishing industries on the Coast.

The bulk of the marchers filed in behind the vehicles in what seemed to be almost a death march because there was so little noise or chanting. Just the eerie sound of two bagpipe players leading the march and the muffled rumble of diesel engines throbbing in-synch with the beat of the marchers feet.

In what was a moving and emotional experience which bought tears to many eyes, some marchers were softly singing while others hummed the tune from the Battle Hymn, a song from the American Civil War.

The words of the hymn seemed appropriate for the occasion.

"We have sounded forth the trumpets that will never sound retreat, with the drums of freedom beating we need thousands on their feet, be quick our souls to heed the call be jubilant our feet, as we go marching on."

At Victoria Park the crowd heard a range of speakers including the Westland and Grey District Mayors, the Chairman of the Regional Council, local Labour MP Damien O'Connor, National MP Nick Smith and ACT MP Ken Shirley.

The crowd was good natured but two of the speakers, Regional Council chairman, John Clayton and MP Damien O' Connor, were booed and hissed when they suggested that while they supported sustainable management of Coast resources, the Government's $100 million offer to the West Coast was “essentially” a good offer.

The crowd chanted "stick it, stick it". Mr Clayton was visibly shaken by the outburst against him.

The crowd also took up a cry of "out, out, out" throughout Mr O'Connor's speech. ACT MP Ken Shirey, and former Westland District Mayor Durham Havill suggested Mr O'Connor should resign which in his speech he refused to do. That bought cries from the crowd of "traitor."

The speech of National MP Nick Smith was generally well received but he was heckled when it was pointed out by some in the crowd that the beech timber harvest, approved in 1986 under the West Coast Accord, had not been honoured by National either.

However, Mr Smith was greeted with cheers and clapping when he suggested that he was a conservationist not a preservationist.

Mr Smith said he was, "appalled when Mr O'Connor voted against a select-committee inquiry into the Government's actions over indigenous timber harvesting last week. And appalled at Mr O'Connor's vote not to have the Primary Production select committee, which Mr O'Connor chairs, visit the Coast to hear evidence from coasters on Timberland's financial affairs.”

The rally passed three resolutions unanimously.

1. That the Parliamentary Primary Production Select Committee hold a full and open inquiry into Government's indigenous forest policies.

2. That the Government conducts a comprehensive socio-economic impact study and report into the effects of its indigenous forest policies on the communities of the West Coast.

3. That following that study and report, Government then consults properly - in accordance with the law and its pre-election policies - with the local authorities and communities of the West Coast.

The meeting broke up around 12.30pm when in typical Coast fashion, the vast bulk of the crowd headed off to support a school fundraising fete.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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