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Deputy PM - West Coast speech General debate

This government is prepared to listen to New Zealanders.

That is why we are in serious negotiations with the West Coast mayors about a compensation package to end native forest logging on the West Coast.

The problem is clear,

We want to stop unsustainable logging of our indigenous forests on the West Coast. But the people on the West Coast see this logging an integral part of their industrial development.

This government could have easily just stopped the logging and ignored the downstream effect for the West Coast.

This is the kind of policy decision that was made by the National Party over the last nine years. Cut benefits and ignore beneficiaries, cut superannuation and ignore senior citizens and cut tariffs and ignore job losses.

National would have continued to destroy our hundred year old forests on the west coast because they lack any imagination as to how to solve the real problem on the west coast.

That problem is jobs.

The West Coast is not the most impoverished region in the country, but it is by no means the healthiest. It has had its share of economic setbacks.

The primary reasons for the west coast's economic problems is it's reliance on exploiting natural resources and the distance those natural resources have to go to markets.

The low price paid for resource extraction industries has contributed to the problem. West Coasters have not been able to add much value to their produce meaning they are basically stuck in a low wage economy.

The $120 million package proposed by this government is a chance to change that.

Instead of just fulfilling our election promises and stopping logging we now have a chance to turn around the West Coast's economy.

The $120 million we have offered to the West Coast is the best chance they have ever had to plan their economy. West Coasters now have a chance to add value to their natural resource extraction. They have a chance to branch out into new industries that do not rely solely on commodity prices.

The West Coast is understandably suspicious of government. The former National government has over the last nine years, continually ignored the people of New Zealand.

The National and Act policy of retrenchment of services and resources to the cities also hurt places such as the West Coast hard.

When I talk to New Zealanders about the government working in partnership with business and local communities they hardly dare believe that the have a government which is on their side. But they have.

An example of the spirit of true negotiation we are entering into is our increase of $20 million to our original offer and an acceptance of many of the mayors points.

In another act of good faith Dr. Cullen and myself have undertaken to put the West Coast's arguments on the continuation of the rimu contracts directly to cabinet.

I wish that the rimu contracts had never been signed last year and acknowledge that the timing of the signing needs to be investigated.

If we can end the rimu logging lawfully then the government will end the rimu logging. What the government will not do is unilaterally suspend the rule of law.

If a government is going to break a legally binding contract then it should have very good reasons. We cannot lightly and without serious consideration sweep aside legal contracts if they were entered into in good faith.

There is a key difference between beech and rimu contracts. Beech contracts were not being supplied whereas Rimu contract are. This means that if the rimu contracts are stopped jobs and incomes would be lost immediately.

I know that the $120 million offered to the West Coast will create many more new jobs, but that will take a while to achieve.

Alliance policy before the election was that all logging of publicly owned native forests, including those currently managed by Timberlands West Coast, would be phased out by way of a transition programme developed in association with local government and the West Coast communities.

This programme is what we are negotiating with the West Coast now.

This programme will feature regional development and investment in regional infrastructure to create genuine alternative long-term employment for those displaced by the termination of logging.

That was our policy before the election and it is our policy now.

ends

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