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Coasters Vent Grievances At Meeting

The Local Government and Environment Select-Committee was told by submissioners at its hearing in Hokitika yesterday that Government has no idea what is or isn't sustainable on the West Coast, because a publicly requested socio-economic impact study has been denied. John Howard reports.

The select-committee hearing, chaired by Green co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons, spent until 11pm last night hearing dozens of submissions on the Forests (West Coast Accord) Bill where Government is proposing to extinguish the 1986 West Coast Accord, already held by the courts to be a binding commercial contract.

The committee, consisting of Green, Labour, National and ACT MP's, was also told the Government had failed to consult properly. It had not properly or lawfully considered the downstream contractors who will receive none of the $120 million set aside in lieu of native forest timber harvesting, and that it had exerted undue influence and raw political power outside of the law.

New Zealand's major rimu sawmiller, Westco Lagan Ltd, had earlier told the committee that it stands to lose $14.5 million as a result of government's decision to end the South Westland rimu harvest five years earlier than Labour's pre-election policy stated. It had not been consulted or considered, and it would get none of the $120 million.

The committee was also told that the 1992 Rio Earth Summit had determined there were 264 internationally recognised attributes to sustainable management and they had not been measured, assessed or evaluated on the West Coast before Government made its decisions.

Taken together they add up to sustainable management the committee was told.

Select-Committee member and ACT MP Ken Shirley, who represented New Zealand at the Rio Earth Summit, told the committee in answer to a submissioner’s question, that sustainability consisted of three attributes - environmental, social and economic.

"It's like a three pronged stool, take one of the three attributes away, or don't consider it as part of sustainable management, and the stool falls over," Mr Shirley said.

Westland mayor John Drylie, who made submissions on behalf of all councils, expressed concern that clause 19 and the first schedule of the proposed bill, seemed to allow the Governor-General acting on the recommendation of the responsible minister, to add to, take-away, or change the description of any land.

"Indigenous production forest land is not defined as just Crown land which could mean private land could also be subjected to the Bill," he said.

Mr Shirley said he didn't think the intention of the Bill allowed alterations to private land, but Mr Drylie said it is not defined as just Crown land, and that is repugnant to justice in a democratic society.

An earlier submission had said, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions."

West Coast/Tasman MP Damien O'Conner, who was sitting in for MP Joe Hawke, raised the issue that significant natural areas of indigenous forests on private land - which are being decided upon by council's throughout New Zealand - could be affected, although his point was not explored further.

Many submissioners told the select-committee that the proposed Bill should be placed on hold until the socio-economic impact study requested in a petition still before the Parliament had been completed.

Former Westland mayor, Durham Havill: "There is no electoral mandate for the Bill, it was not signaled prior to the election, and it is not what Labour said it would do in its pre-election card posted to all West Coasters."

"Put the Bill on hold and go to the electorate next election for your mandate," Mr Havill said.

The select-committee was told many heart-wrenching personal stories of previous government betrayals of the West Coast which had caused personal losses, and that the pattern looked set to continue. Some argued that the $120 million was short by about $30 million based on provable economic loss.

The committee was left in no doubt that West Coaster's will not take ownership of the $120 million package until natural justice, fairness and a proper socio-economic impact study is completed.

The only West Coast mayor who attended the select-committee hearing and the earlier protest march was Westland District's John Drylie. The Regional Council chairman did not attend either. Many Coaster's commented they were unhappy with the non-attendance.

"The councils have already sliced their $7 million share off the top of the $120 million package so we shouldn't be surprised," said one Coaster's as he left the hearing.

However, a good number of Coaster's said they were impressed with Jeanette Fitzsimons as the chairperson of the select-committee, and the way she handled the hearing in a fair way considering her Green background.

She and other select-committee members also fronted up at the end of the protest march, actions which certainly earned her some 'brownie-points' with the crowd.

Although there were a few boos for her, most people remained silent. Coast MP Damien O'Conner came in for much more flak and cat-calling from the crowd, with many simply turning their backs and walking away as he tried to speak over the noise.

Many Coaster's still have the impression that nothing will change and a book has already been started taking bets over the outcome of the proposed Bill.

Until now, the Government had decided to hear just from the mayors over the issue. But yesterday, West Coasters officially had their say - and it now seems the Government will get a much different story - it will probably have to start thinking a bit more laterally.

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