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Rod Donald Coast Logging General Debate Speech

General Debate on the Logging of West Coast rimu
3pm Wednesday 3 May 2000
Rod Donald MP

Green Party Co-Leader

Yesterday the Treasurer, Dr Michael Cullen, likened the Greens opposition to logging ancient forests on the West coast to the tactics used by Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. It was an appalling statement, totally untrue and uncalled for. Apparently Dr Cullen claims he said it in retaliation to me accusing him of a breach of faith over his advocacy of continuing rimu logging contracts for the next 7 years.

Let me assure him that I have not accused him of anything - yet. What I did say, and I quote from the New Zealand Press Association is: "Any decision to let the rimu contracts run their course would strain the party's relationship with the Government and it would be a huge breach of faith with all those people who voted for Labour and the Alliance at the election". That is what I want to focus on: the rimu contracts and the fact that ancient trees are being felled in the Orikaka forest, the North Okarito forest, and the Saltwater forest to fill those contracts - thousands of magnificent trees. In the 6 months to March, 15,800 cubic metres of logs have been taken out of those forests - four months of those while this Government was in power. Pristine forests are being trashed for profit, needlessly.

I cannot say it better than Helen Clark did when she launched Labour's Green agenda, last October, when she said: "Around the world indigenous forests are under very great pressure as short-term commercial interest predominate over long-term heritage concerns." She goes on to say: "that is the reason why we have taken a strong and unequivocal stand on the future of the West Coast forests. Where they have significant values they will be added to the conservation estate for permanent protection." She concludes: "National may be content to go down in history as environmental vandals, Labour is not. There is no place in our vision for New Zealand in the 21st century as a country logging public forests with significant heritage values."

Yes, there is an issue about Labour's policy stating that existing contracts would be honoured, but as Helen Clark said herself, on National Radio, on 15 October, in relation to the contract signed around the time Labour announced its policy: "I don't think there can be any commitment, moral, legal, or otherwise to secret contracts which the public was completely unaware of." That is the central issue - the nature of those contracts.

As Clark said during question time today, there is justifiable suspicion about those contracts and the role of the previous Minister, Tony Ryall, in relation to their signing. Certainly we know that Labour finalised their policy on 7 September, and we know that it announced its policy on 10 September In the 3 days in between, as the Timberlands chairman said, an extraordinary coincidence took place; because in those 3 days the bulk of the contracts for beech and rimu were signed in secret, which were designed to tie the hands of any new Government. The largest contracts were awarded to Westco Lagan, at Ruatapu: 88,1000 cubic metres of rimu has been signed over to Westco Lagan over the next 8 years, and a further 20,000 cubic metres of beech forest over the same period.

The contracts are the same, the dates are the same, the wording is the same, yet the new Government has rightly cancelled the beech contracts and has a court ruling validating that action, but it has not yet cancelled the rimu contracts. Until Monday, we understood the Government was seeking legal advice on all the rimu contracts in relation to their "force majeure" clause, with the objective of ending the logging as soon as practicable.

Indeed Pete Hodgson said in a press statement on 1 March: "We have stopped the beech scheme. We are working through the legal issues involved with stopping rimu logging in crown-managed forests." The most generous construction one can put on the Prime Minister's statement when she unequivocally said, on 23 March this year: "This Government was clearly elected on a pledge to stop native logging and we will carry out that pledge" is that this Government will end logging before the end of this term of Parliament, not in 7 years' time.

So it was an absolute bolt from the blue when Mr Anderton said, and Mr Cullen reinforced, that these contracts would last for another 7 years. It is extraordinary, when Labour's policy says the logging should end as soon as practicable and the Alliance says it wants to protect our native forests. How can they seriously propose a $120 million compensation package (interrupted by the speaker announcing the end of my five minute slot. I intended to say) solely for the beech scheme while allowing rimu logging to continue for seven years?

Timberlands, clearly with agreement of National Minister Tony Ryall, deliberately acted to pre-empt a new Government. Without Timberland's secret last minute deals all native logging would have ended at the end of last year or early this year. Why should logging go on for years just because of Timberlands high handed actions?

ENDS

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