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Prime Minister's Monday Press Conference

General Matters - Timberlands West Coast Settlement - Sierra Leone- Airways Corporation - Defence Radio Deal - Pm On Rimu Logging - Cultural Affairs Package - Social Welfare & Winz After The Hunn - Treasury Report To Erb Stifled

All dialogue is paraphrased


Prime Minister Helen Clark: (Paraphrased) Good afternoon. More details of the Budget will be released in a statement this week. The radio frequency deal has also been finalized and this will be released soon. Minister Responsible For Timberlands Pete Hodgson will now brief the media on the West Coast Timberlands settlement deal. West Coast Mayors are meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Jim Anderton and Finance Minister Michael Cullen. A stand up meeting with Mr Hodgson and West Coast Mayors will be held for the media shortly after 4:30 pm. I’ll hand you over to him now.


HODGSON (Minister Responsible For Timberlands Pete Hodgson) After consultation with Cabinet and the Timberlands Board an early end to Rimu Logging on the West Coast has been agreed upon – the final date will be 31st March 2002. Legislation will also be introduced into the House this afternoon which will bring to an end the West Coast Accord. We received a paper from the Greens on the issue but it didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know.

HODGSON Our main aim was to minimise any job losses.

QUESTION: So the deal was effectively cut short by five years – the old date to finish logging the timber was 2007 wasn’t it?

HODGSON: Yes that’s right.

QUESTION: How much consultation was there to decide this?

HODGSON: There was lots of consultation in Cabinet – we met with many groups in Government to decide on the time-frame and reached a consensus decision. As I have said before there was also consultation with the Timberland’s Board before we ended West Coast Accord – this consultation is required by law.

QUESTION: What about the risk of legal action taken against you by private companies who may be adversely affected by the cessation – have you received advice about this?

HODGSON : I’ve yet to receive any legal advice that there is no risk of legal action but I have been advised that using the force majeure clause will minimise the risk This is a compromise –there are some who would like the logging to end in seven years, others who would prefer seven minutes. We think this decision allows for a reasonable transition period. We are honouring the force majeure clause inside the contract which was very sensibly put in before the accord was signed.

QUESTION: Has the compensation figure of $120 million to West Coast development been finalized?

HODGSON: Yes this figure was approved by Cabinet last week. It’s actually $120 million plus GST.

QUESTION: What is the system to split up this money around the regions?

HODGSON: The system details about who gets what from the $120 million are still being negotiated at the moment. I’d rather wait until Mr Anderton and Mr Cullen have finished their meeting before I comment further. The legislation ending the West Coast Accord will not be introduced under urgency, it will go through the normal select committee process and take around two months.

While we understand many on the Coast will not be happy with the deal but it’s a matter of fact that a large number of New Zealanders don’t want logging of our natural heritage to continue and support this move.

QUESTION: Minister what about reports that you have underestimated how many jobs will be lost with the ending of the accord?

HODGSON: I’m not sure how many jobs will be lost - but there need not be any jobs lost – we have made time for a transition period which will allow companies time to change what they are doing.

QUESTION: How many trees will be affected by the end of logging?

HODGSON My advice tells me the end of the logging would affect around 5-10,000 cubic metres of cubic roundwood.


Defence Mark Burton now addresses the media on the status of two New Zealand troops working alongside British troops in Sierra Leone.

BURTON: The Prime Minister Helen Clark and myself have announced today that Cabinet has approved the involvement of two New Zealand army personnel who are currently on duty in Sierra Leone with a British unit in the Long Look exchange programme. The two men are not to be sent into combat but are instead will be guarding the main airport in Freetown.

Also today we will extend New Zealand’s troop contribution to the troubled area of Bouganville. We have 30 men there now which will be gradually reduced to 20 men by June 2000.


Now assuming his role of SOE Minister Mark Burton answers questions on the allegations made against top executives in the Airways Corporation.

QUESTION: What information have you received regarding the allegations made by NZ First Leader Winston Peters on improper practices at the Airways Corp?

BURTON: I have not seen any evidence as yet to support the allegations but I expect to see evidence tonight and later on this week.

QUESTION: Does Mr Peters have any evidence to support his claims?

BURTON: I have not seen any evidence as yet. Because I have yet to see evidence it would be best if I didn’t speculate on whether he has any evidence. Mr Peters has made serious allegations and it is important for the good of the company, which is a State Owned Enterprise, if these allegations are resolved as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Concerning the Airways Corporation - what are your opinions about a chief executive of a SOE who spends most of his time based offshore? Does this concern you?

BURTON: I don’t know the details here but if a chief executive of a New Zealand State Owned Enterprise did spend most of the company time based overseas - yes this would concern me and I would require an explanation.

QUESTION: As this is a State Owned Enterprise are you also surprised if the enterprise does not wish to release information regarding how much time this executive spends overseas?

BURTON: Yes. We are a Government committed to transparency and accountability and this would also concern me. I see no reason why this information should be withheld.

QUESTION: Does a year's salary package compensation in response to a resignation seem execessive? Given the Government’s commitment to transparency, should there be confidentiality contracts involved?

BURTON: Without knowing the specific details of this case I would say it was excessive. Confidentiality contracts were made as part of the last administration.


QUESTION: Can you confirm the Army is planning to by new radios worth hundreds of millions of dollars from the United States? And why the United States?

BURTON: The deal has not yet been finalised. Yes I can confirm we are looking at radio-communications systems from the United States. We will take the best package with the best options we can get from whatever buyer but we haven’t reached a decision on the package yet. The New Zealand army’s communication facilities are in need of an upgrade.


QUESTION: Prime Minister, was the deal essentially a take it or leave it deal?

PM: We made a package of $120 million dollars for regional development after a lot of consultation. While I would expect a predictable reaction from the pro-logging organised lobby, many New Zealanders support the ending of native logging.

QUESTION: Is there likely to be any compensation given to independent and private contractors affected by the ending of logging?

PM: Outside bodies would have have to pursue this through the courts - there will be no automatic compensation. The compensation deal will not set a dangerous precedent for future compensation deals.

QUESTION: Is the Government decision likely to scare off international investment into this country?

PM: No there is no evidence of this

QUESTION: Was there any evidence that the lobbying of Jim Anderton and Michael Cullen on behalf of the West Coast mayors was ever likely to succeed?

PM: Both Jim Anderton and Michael Cullen promised they would advocate the West Coaster’s position and they kept true to the spirit of their promise. Both were concerned that the legal obligations to the Coast were met. The Cabinet agreed in consensus on the final outcome of the decision.


QUESTION: Prime Minister – in the light of the Hunn report into the problems of WINZ what action will the government take on this issue?

PM: The Minister of Social Welfare Steve Maharey is consulting together with different Government agencies and will make up a public services charter for the organisation to hopefully avoid future mistakes. The Minister is also consulting with Government welfare think tanks to formulate a strategy for the way forward for WINZ.


QUESTION: What can you tell us about the Cultural Affairs package?

PM: It’s very exciting. Creative New Zealand will get more financing to make programming and art with positive economic spin-offs. The detail will be announced later in the week.


QUESTION: What is the Government’s reaction to allegations that it has attempted to stifle a report by Treasury given to the Parliamentary Select Committee on the Employment Relations Bill?

PM: It is by my experience not normal behaviour for a Government department to make submissions to Parliamentary Select Committee. Public servants are not private interests and should be concentrating on policy.

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