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Flavell: West Coast Wind-blown Timber Bill

West Coast Wind-blown Timber (Conservation Lands) Bill

Speech - TE URUROA FLAVELL (Co-Leader - Māori Party)

Thursday 26 June 2014

TE URUROA FLAVELL (Co-Leader - Māori Party): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Kia ora tātou katoa i tēnei ahiahi. Ka nui te mihi ki a tātou. I am pleased to take a call on behalf of the Māori Party with respect to this bill, and I have got to say from the very beginning that there is different perspective for Māori that is a little bit divergent to the conservation ethic among those in the modern conservation movement who may appear to have a more empathetic attitude towards indigenous ecological knowledge. They may assume that their environmental ethics and those of indigenous peoples like Māori are motivated by similar philosophies and share similar aims.

However, not only is this assumption often wrong; it also contributes to the inability of the Western conservation movement to properly serve the needs of and to fully empower indigenous conservation aspirations as guaranteed to Māori under the Treaty of Waitangi. Two months ago, as the Minister has outlined, those forces of nature had a particularly dire impact as Cyclone Ita left large proportions of the forests, hundreds of years old, completely flattened. We know that the communities of Whataroa and Harihari were the worst hit and were where floods created devastating damage to tōtara forests. That is Tawhirimatea at work; that is nature at work. There is a saying from ngā pepeha a ngā tūpuna; it goes something like this – a tree that will fall to the flood. In essence, it tells us that there will always be forces to contend with and that life should be valued while it remains. I think it is important to note that the forces of nature have, through time, wreaked havoc on our communities, leaving families cast aside as they have tried to repair their lives. Just this afternoon before I came to the House, Ruaumoko was at work. I felt a bit of a jolt as we came across, and we know, of course, that earlier in the day, I think it was, there was a series of other earthquakes at Eketāhuna, all enforcing the idea that Ruaumoko was at work; nature was at work.

When the Minister presented the bill, wishing to move on this particular proposal to us as the Māori Party, we went, as we usually do, to the people of the land. We got feedback from Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu. They gave us a blessing, but they also put some questions to us, and we in turn moved those questions directly to the Minister. Just last week he invited me to go with him to look over the site, an exercise I very much appreciated because then you get a real understanding about the scale of what went on—nature at work. I appreciated seeing for myself large areas of land with trees just toppled over like matchsticks, and also standing in amongst it. Some might say it was a photo opportunity; I would like to say I was actually seeing for myself what it was all about and learning that there were trees that had been there for a very long period of time that would just go to waste unless something was done about it.

Sure, there were concerns, and I want to outline those for the record on behalf of the Māori Party. We have expressed the view that the timber recovery should not occur in areas of the national park, ecological areas, the white heron colony, or World Heritage areas. The proposal confirms this and notes that it is restricted to conservation lands outside of those areas I just mentioned. We have also been reassured that the rākau rūnanga will have access for recovery of felled timber for customary purposes. Of course Ngāi Tahu would agree to that and get back into that. The bill has many checks in it regarding minimising the environmental effects of recovery and ensuring the health and safety of timber recovery workers. Operators will provide health and safety plans to show that their removal methods will be safe for workers and for the public. I thought that was quite an important condition in light of the fact that at the beginning of last week I was in Rotorua at the hearing of the independent panel on health and safety in the forests. Its members are the ones who have demanded that this sort of legislation be put in place, not for the trees but around health and safety being important considerations.

The reason for urgency is that the beech timber will rapidly deteriorate, and borer and sap stains and all that sort of stuff will start to take its part with the timber, and that if the wood is to be recovered, it needs to be done sooner rather than later. I can actually say that I saw that taking place in front of my own eyes—not that those bugs were moving around while I looked at it, but I certainly saw the damage they could create, therefore rendering that timber pretty much worthless. The impacts of the timber removal would be minimised through strict controls. No significant soil disturbance would be allowed, and operators would be required to minimise damage to the forest and to the conservation values at the site. That seems to suit and fit exactly what we want to happen. The scale of the damage from Cyclone Ita means that there are large amounts of dead and dying tree material available to contribute to natural nutrient cycling and habitat creation within the forest ecosystem. I have got to say that this was at the heart of many of the submissions I have received during this week about the recovery of the soil, allowing nature to take its course in due time and ensuring that there is minimal damage, if any, to the soil.

Only timber that can be processed for high-value logs and sawn slabs would be recovered, leaving the rest of the tree in the forest available for plants and animals within the forest ecosystem. The removal of a small portion of that material is therefore, from our perspective, unlikely to have too much of a significant effect, and the Minister has, effectively, given us the indication that that is the case. It is proposed that the legislation would apply for a period of fuve years, after which it would be repealed and any timber removal would cease. I asked the Minister on the way to the venue if this was the case—was there a time limit to make sure that there is not too substantial damage that will be done within that ecosystem? That guarantee is there. Limiting the time period within which timber can be recovered would also limit the disturbance, as work would be undertaken prior to areas regenerating—a good provision. Revenue from timber royalties would go back into conservation and could be used for forest regeneration; for example, through controlling pests that eat the seeds for forest regeneration and weed control in affected areas. For it to go back into the conservation estate is right and proper. The West Coast conservation board and the local Ngāi Tahu rūnanga will be consulted on how the royalty revenues are spent. At least in this part, Māori do have a say in respect of how those royalties will go.

Research will also be commissioned on the effects of timber removal on forest regeneration on to inform future decisions—a good provision that allows us to ensure this whole operation can be monitored from start to finish. We think that particular clause has got some seriously good parts to it. Finally, this legislation will open up long-term employment and commercial opportunities for the community. Although we are sad to see that so much native timber has been blown over by Cyclone Ita, at the end of the day we were delighted that Ngāi Tahu and the rest of the West Coast community will benefit from the passing of this legislation. In a time when the West Coast, in particular, is screaming for work opportunities to come its way, we believe that this is an opportunity not to be wasted.

When you look at the scale of the devastation and the small percentage of the area that will in fact be accessed by those who are successful in their tenders, it makes sense. It will allow for some employment to take place, allow for business to have a go at regenerating businesses that have long been asleep. Over a set period of time, we will have it all monitored and have certain restrictions in place. From the Māori Party perspective, this bill makes sense. We commend and support the Minister in his efforts to have this bill passed under urgency.

ENDS


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