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The Silna Legislation And Late Night Meetings

Last night Nick Smith met with around 25 landowners and concerned parties concerning legislation he is about to introduce into the House to impose new restrictions against the export of unsustainably logged native timber.

The bill has been prompted by a decision in the High Court - Alan Johnson Sawmilling vs His Excellence The Governor General CP140/97 - of June 9 by Justice Wilde.

In the decision Justice Wilde struck down restrictions imposed against the export of Wood Pulp from SILNA native lands. These had been imposed under the Customs and Excise Act.

The reason for the restrictions being lifted relates to the special nature of the SILNA lands.

The SILNA native lands were lands that were granted to Maori as compensation when an earlier colonial government recognised that it had taken all of Southland and failed to live up to its obligations to create reserves.

The compensation has till this day proved worthless as it consists of largely unusable remote native forests. However it is very clear from the manner in which the land is granted that the sale of timber from the land, clearfelling, and use of it for agriculture is contemplated as being the source from which the owners are supposed to gain their livelihoods.

At the same time the land - which includes the famed Waitutu forest and the equally spectacular Lords River Block - is now of very high conservation value and the crown now wants to add it to the conservation estate through the use of a covenant to prevent forestry.

For most of the past decade and longer there has been an ongoing tryst of negotiations between the crown and the SILNA owners, who number around 5000, over compensation for such an agreement.

For his part Alan Johnson is a sawmiller who has been signing up a number of frustrated owners to agree to the clearfelling of land.

Last night the Scoop understands that the minister responsible Nick Smith did a relatively good job of selling a new crown tack in the negotiations.

He has, Scoop understands, offered a $750,000 pool as a "good will" payment to owners in return for their agreeing not to sign up to Alan Johnson's or any others unsustainable logging plans.

He has also replaced the two current crown negotiators - Bill Sutton and Brent Wheeler - whom many of the owners are unsatisfied with.

Scoop understands a new crown negotiator - George McMillan - who negotiated a recently completed $18 million compensation deal with the owners of the Waitutu forest, has been appointed.

McMillan is understood to be a relatively popular appointment among owners as he is recognised his role in the earlier settlement.

As to how far apart the parties are in negotiations over compensation - the answer appears to be not too far.

The key part of the negotiations concerns the Lords River Block which is regarded as one of the last truly untouched large lowland forests in New Zealand. Scoop understands at recent negotiations the Owners - who are keen to preserve the land - went to negotiations with a bottom line of under $20 million for granting the crown its covenant.

This compared to a market value of the timber on the land of an estimated $60 million.

The crown for its part - represented by Wheeler - was unwilling to stray far above $10 million.

According to Scoop sources owners who attended last nights meeting remain very cynical about the latest twist in the plot over their compensation negotiations. One owner complained to Scoop that the idea of the $750,000 being a "goodwill payment" was rather rich given that it had strings attached.

"Isn't that the definition of good-will?", he asked.

Another commented that sincerity from the minister six months out from an election did not really wash.

However overall the level of dissatisfaction among owners is not at boiling point it seems and Nick Smith has assured owners that they will have an opportunity to address their concerns about the new legislation to a Select Committee.

© Scoop Media

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