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Scoop Editorial: Reconciliation On The West Coast

Earlier this week Scoop editor, Alastair Thompson and myself, were exchanging emails about how to solve the terrible mess between the Government and the West Coast over the indigenous forest policies. It's time for reconciliation and dialogue. Scoop's West Coast correspondent John Howard writes.

Last week, Justice Hammond, when ruling on the sawmillers case in the High Court said, "The West Coast Accord was widely noted, and applauded, in New Zealand and elsewhere as an outstanding example of mutual cooperation between widely differing groups in resolving a large scale socio-economic problem."

In 1997, Justice Greig when ruling on a West Coast case said, " What is important, in my view, is that this agreement (the Accord) was a settlement of disputes and differences between the conservation interests, the sawmilling interests, the Government and not least the local authorities representing the population as a whole."

At the time of the 1986 West Coast Accord, it was agreed between all the signatories that around 150,000 hectares of potentially productive indigenous forest would be placed in reserves and DOC stewardship areas and around 100,000 hectares would be available for production.

So times have changed and we have a new Government and we accept that.

But is it wrong for West Coast communities to be wanting a socio-economic impact study to be completed? Now that the terms of the Accord are to be altered over the harvest of indigenous timber?

Yesterday, in Parliament, the Government refused to undertake an impact study even though more than 4,000 Coasters unanimously voted at a rally last Saturday to demand one.

The Government also said yesterday, in answer to a question in the House, that Treasury had done no economic analysis to substantiate the claim by Mr Anderton that; "I would be surprised if the $100 million offered to the West Coast....did not create at least 2,000 jobs."

So where did the $100 million offer come from and is it a good deal?

The Westland District Mayor, John Drylie, says he wasn't involved in any discussions about the offer and it just came out of the blue.

For example, is this an unbudgeted figure? Should there be $100 million just laying around?

From the little information Coaster's have, it seems that we will only be getting the interest from the investment of the $100 million.

$100 million @ 7% = $7 million - less tax and administration costs. That means the four Coast council's will get around $4 million annually.

By comparison, just the coal levy that Government takes on coal sales from the Coast, are now said to be worth around $8 million annually to the Government.

Although an earlier figure said the levies were worth $3 million. It seems, however, that the $8 million taken is due to more production.

Jim Anderton said in the House yesterday that the $100 million invested for 35 years would return over $250 million.

But the indigenous timber is said to be worth $350 million over the next 35 years.

And Government will still have Timberlands exotic forest assets to flog off if it is of a mind to do so. The rumour on the Coast is that it will be sold to the highest bidder.

Coaster's say there is simply not enough exotic timber available to keep all the mills going on the Coast.

They also say that if the company currently specialising in milling South Westland sustainable rimu has to change to exotics, up to half the jobs may go because pine milling is not so specialised.

Pre-election, Labour posted a card to West Coast households which said if it became Government it would;

(a) give us perpetual cutting rights and control of Timberlands exotic forests. (Current value $66 million)

(b) indigenous forests not allocated to DOC will go into a trust and special purpose species and the fund for oplanting them will be allocated to the trust (Value $6.7 million)

(c) Resource levies from energy and royalties will be allocated to the trust (Minimum value $3 million per year)

(d) Current rimu contracts will be managed by the Crown with all profits going to the trust.

(e) Rates on Crown Land - Local authorities will receive payment in lieu of rates on the conservation estate. (Estimated payment $1.6 million annually. - Rates for land allocated back to DOC from Timberlands will be compensated (approx. compensation $130,000)

(f) Payments for Sewerage Schemes - Estimated Grey district $4 million - Buller District $1 million and appropriate subsidies for Westland District.

That is the basis which West Coasters - and New Zealanders - went to the election.

So is the $100 million cash offer a good deal to create work - I don't think so.

But let's stop shouting, let the politicians and some Coaster's stop using hurtful rhetoric, let's stop the marginalising - let's stop the CRAP.

Let's start talking. And I mean properly talking.

For Helen Clark, Jim Anderton and the Government the message is clear from the coast – “Come and talk to us”.

Yesterday on Scoop Peter Russell from Native Forest Action suggested that Coaster's should focus on getting the best possible deal they can from the Government - and he's right.

But coasters have been trying to do that since November last.

The trouble is the Government simply won't consult properly with the coast - it is trying to persuade and bully rather than consult.

Government has a clear legal obligation to properly consult because the West Coast Accord has been deemed by the Courts to be a contract. Michael Cullen wrote to me and said so.

So please do it.

Government also has an obligation to apply properly informed, focused and considered decision-making.

Let's see a socio-economic impact study. Afterall, Justice Hammond said just last week in the High Court that was the very reason for the Accord - "to resolve a large scale socio-economic problem."

Don't cast us aside.

An eye for eye means everybody ends up blind.


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