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On The Left: Feral? Or Just Being Silly?

Monday, May 22nd, 2000.

West Coasters, on one view are now not happy about the Government. In fact, this could perhaps be seen as something of an understatement. Certainly if one was to believe everything that the Coastal Action Network has to say, no Government MP should set foot within 50 km of the feral bastards.

On another view, which was quite well done on an Assignment documentary last Thursday, the Coast has some good prospects ahead of it, and some business people who are looking to the future not the past. A hardy, active population with guts is making a go of it on the edge of the sea, and despite the temporary setback of losing rimu and beech logging, are going to succeed no matter what.

Which of these two views is correct?

Well, I sure don’t know. I am an Aucklander who was born in an even bigger city overseas. The longest time I have spent in a small community is probably a week on holiday in Taupo. So I’m not going to pretend that I can divine the way a small community must feel in the current situation.

However, as an interested political activist, I find it odd that closer scrutiny isn’t applied to some of the more ridiculous plans coming out of the coast. And probably the most saddening for me is the sight of apparently Labour Party activists and supporters resigning from the party in a tearful state.

I would like to suggest that such people have been maliciously misled by a so- called “protest” movement that is nothing more than a front for people who are out to damage the Government.

While there is mixed evidence over the sustainability or otherwise of the beech logging scheme, and of the rimu contracts, one thing isn’t in doubt: a democratic process, which was made explicitly clear, resulted in three parties at the General Election last year responding to their members’ concerns and the concerns in the wider community by pledging to end the beech scheme, and terminate rimu logging contracts on the Coast. The Greens, Labour and the Alliance between them won 15,187 of the 31,208 votes cast – just over half the party vote. Labour’s local MP, Damien O’Connor, won twice as many votes as his National opponent.

All around the country, the three parties achieved more than 50% of the vote.

It can be fairly said, therefore, that the democratic mandate to stop the logging is unmistakable. It was an issue; it was publicised, and it was won by the left, as every other major issue was.

It is also important to put the ban in perspective. It appears from news reports that the entirety of the native logging industry employs approximately 400 people – because that is the number of jobs which the West Coasters constantly carp about losing as a result of this policy.

While there may be short run losses, it should be obvious to anyone who thinks about it that as the exotic plantation forests approach maturity (as they are about now) they will require people to harvest them. The amount of timber which can be removed from these plantations, as far as I am aware, is larger than the amount which was removable from the native forests.

Further, talk about losing 4000 jobs in the furniture industry is simply nonsense. If people think that the demand for furniture is going to disappear simply because it isn’t available in native timbers any more, they are living on a different planet to the one I am on. Arguments that people will substitute foreign exotic timbers for native pine-based or plantation native timbers are a minor concern, but in my view should be met with protection. We should not allow imports of timber which has been unsustainably logged, or that comes from forests which have conservation value, simply because it comes from overseas. Such a policy would be entirely hypocritical.

Finally, there is the issue of the development trust. $120m, which is what is being offered the region, can potentially do far, far more good than simply logging native timber. Investments from the fund can over time improve the West Coast’s infrastructure, invest in local developments in light manufacturing, plantation forestry, tourism and other local, small scale activities.

The mayors of the West Coast would be pretty much guilty of treason if they were to turn down the package. They would be selling their electors down the river; logging is going to be stopped either way.

The Coast provides an example of an underdeveloped region which is receiving significant funding. Unfortunate as the circumstances are, in some respects, the parties of the left are committed to conserving our environment.

Coasters, instead of whinging about a decision that has already been made, need to get over the shock, take the development money and use it to build a better future for themselves and their kids.

Till next week,

Jordan Carter carters@ihug.co.nz

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