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Forests (West Coast Accord ) Bill 2000 Ist Reading

FORESTS (WEST COAST ACCORD) BILL 2000
FIRST READING SPEECH NOTES, 18 MAY 2000
HON PETE HODGSON, MINISTER OF FORESTRY


I move that the Forests (West Coast Accord) Bill be now read a first time.

This Bill is an important step in bringing to an end a long-running controversy and it is desirable therefore that it be processed expeditiously. At the conclusion of this debate, I propose to move that the Bill be referred to the Local Government and Environment Select Committee and that the committee have the authority to meet at any time while the House is sitting (except during oral questions), and during any evening on a day on which there has been a sitting of the House, and on a Friday in the week in which there has been a sitting of the House, notwithstanding Standing Orders 193 and 196 (1) (b) and (c); and that the committee finally report back the bill by 3 August 2000.

The Bill will implement the Government’s decisions to bring the 1986 West Coast Accord to an end and cancel any remaining obligations under the Accord.

The Bill also enables the status of the West Coast indigenous production forest land previously subject to the West Coast Accord to be changed to conservation areas, reserves, additions to national parks, or unallocated Crown land as necessary.

The 1986 West Coast Accord was a Government-brokered deal over the allocation and future management of Crown indigenous forest land on the West Coast. It involved West Coast local government, forest industry and environmental interests.

The purpose of the Accord was to provide for areas of Crown land to be gazetted as reserves and national park, and to allow logging of other indigenous forests to continue while exotic plantation forest came on stream. This logging was intended to make possible the maintenance, subject to competitive market forces, of the West Coast sawmilling industry during a transitional period. There was also reference in the Accord to allowing a continuing supply of indigenous timber in perpetuity.

The Accord is an unusual and somewhat ambiguous document. As a result, it has been the subject of significant and protracted litigation over its meaning and effect.

In 1995 the High Court found the Accord to be a legally binding contract and that the Crown had met or was meeting its obligations under it.

On appeal in 1997, the Court of Appeal confirmed the contractual nature of parts of the Accord but found that the Accord's third recital, which refers to the unsustainable harvesting of rimu from the Buller district until 2006, was not binding on the Crown.

The Accord was signed in 1986 in response to concerns about exploitation and clearfelling of indigenous forests on Crown land on the West Coast and to provide some certainty over the availability of Crown land for timber production. The Accord was an attempt to balance the protection of the region's forests with the maintenance of a sawmilling industry on the Coast while plantation species became available.

The gazettal of most of the reserves provided for by the Accord was completed in the late 1990's. Meanwhile, the Crown honoured its obligation to provide indigenous timber during the transitional period by allowing thousands of hectares of mixed podocarp hardwood forests to be substantially modified and damaged by overcutting of rimu. The overcutting will end this year.

Things have moved on considerably in the fourteen years since the signing of the Accord. The ecological importance and conservation value of the remaining lowland forests allocated for production under the Accord is only now being fully appreciated.

This appreciation has arisen from further work on the forests themselves, and in the development of the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy. There are very real concerns about the ongoing decline in New Zealand’s unique indigenous ecosystems and species, including forest ecosystems. Nationwide, less than 7% of New Zealand's original lowland forest of all species remains. Of the lowland podocarp hardwood forest, only 15% remains and only a small proportion of that is fully protected.

Public attitudes to logging in publicly-owned indigenous forests have also changed markedly. These lowland forests are considered by many New Zealanders to be a unique and significant part of our natural heritage, too valuable for logging of any sort to continue.

This Government's policy of ending indigenous logging on Crown-managed land as soon as practicable reflects that shift in public opinion. It is no longer appropriate to make these forests available for timber production. As guardian of the forests on behalf of the people of New Zealand, we want to give them the highest level of protection that we can. Logging them is incompatible with that conservation objective.

The logging of Crown-managed beech forests on the West Coast has already been stopped by this Government, but the logging of rimu continues. After the passage of this Bill, the shareholding Ministers in Timberlands West Coast Ltd therefore intend to consult with the company's Board on pursuing an early end to rimu harvesting, proposed to be by 31 March 2002.

The Accord has outlived its usefulness. The Government's economic and social objectives for the West Coast will now be advanced through the $120 million adjustment package on offer to the region, and through other public policy measures.

The Government also wishes to avoid further unnecessary, expensive and unproductive litigation over the Accord.

The Bill cancels the West Coast Accord at the close of 10 May 2000.

The Bill provides that the effect of cancelling the Accord is that, to the extent it remains unperformed, no party is obliged or entitled to perform it further. To the extent that the Accord has been performed, no party is divested of property transferred or money paid under it because of the cancellation.

The Bill rules out compensation being paid by the Crown to any person for any loss or damage arising from cancelling the Accord.

Government policy provides for Crown-managed West Coast indigenous forests of significant conservation value to come under the management of the Department of Conservation. That is expected to include much of the 130,000 hectares of indigenous forest land that was allocated for production pursuant to the Accord. Part 2 of the Bill enables this change of status of the land to occur.

The Bill allows the responsible Ministers (the Ministers of Finance and State-Owned Enterprises) to declare West Coast indigenous production forest land to be held for conservation or reserve purposes under the Conservation Act 1987 or Reserves Act 1977, and for areas of land to be added to an existing national park under the National Parks Act 1980. The Bill also allows land to be declared Crown land subject to the Land Act.

The responsible Ministers must consult with the Ministers of Conservation and Forestry, and the Minister for Land Information before making any declaration.

Changing the status of some or all of the land is likely to result in a large addition to the area that will be subject to the Department of Conservation's West Coast Conservation Management Strategy, which is still in draft. This potential addition to the area already administered by DoC would raise significant new management issues and create statutory planning difficulties. These planning difficulties have been addressed in the Bill.

The Bill enables the Director-General of Conservation to initiate a review of, or amendment to, the draft conservation management strategy, in order to cover any issues arising from changing the status of the land.

The Bill also deals with the North Westland regional management plan prepared by the former New Zealand Forest Service. There is some legal uncertainty as to the effect of this management plan on Crown forest lands if they had a change in status. Many of the plan's provisions would be inappropriate if the lands were held for conservation or reserve purposes.

The Bill therefore prevents the plan applying to any land that has its status changed. It also provides for the plan to be treated as withdrawn on the approval of the West Coast Conservation Management Strategy.

The new Strategy will be able to pick up any important provisions from the old plan that would otherwise be lost. Having one management document covering these areas will simplify administration and remove the likelihood of conflicting provisions. The management plan for the Paparoa National Park is unaffected.

The Bill provides that existing encumbrances, such as easements, licences, leases or permits, continue in force on the same terms after a declaration changes the status of the land to which they relate. Such existing encumbrances will remain in force until they expire, are terminated or cancelled. This is to ensure that any current rights are not detrimentally affected by the change of land status.

The Bill provides exemptions, in a range of circumstances, from the concessions regime under the Conservation Act for conservation areas, reserves or national parks. This is to enable a person to exchange an existing encumbrance for a concession during the life of the existing encumbrance. When the concession is granted, the existing encumbrance is cancelled.

The West Coast indigenous production forest land to which the Bill relates is identified in Schedule 1. The Bill enables changes to be made to the Schedule from time to time.

Finally, the Bill also makes minor or consequential amendments to other Acts.


ends

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