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State Company Targets Labour Party

The anatomy of an anti-environmental PR campaign

News release 17 August 1999


For the last year the primary target of Timberlands’ PR campaign has been the Labour Party, owing to management fears that a change of government in November would lead to its native forest logging being stopped. The new book, Secrets and Lies, shows the company worked frantically to reverse the direction of Labour Party policy (chapter 10).

Co-author Nicky Hager said, “Since a state company cannot openly lobby a political party, Timberlands worked through a variety of allies to put pressure on Labour. The main target of this campaign was Helen Clark.”

The book cites a confidential PR strategy from December 1998, written by Timberlands communication manager Paula de Roeper, called “Public relations strategy – Where to from here?” The paper stated that a top PR priority was persuading Labour leader Helen Clark to visit the West Coast for a Timberlands PR tour. The pressure on Helen Clark began soon after. Straight after Christmas Timberlands’ front group, Coast Action Network, launched a letter writing campaign to Helen Clark demanding that she visit the West Coast. It distributed hundreds of form letters addressed to Clark and arranged advertisements on local radio stations urging locals to write to her.

Timberlands mobilised other allies too. Its chief so-called “environmental” ally, Guy Salmon of the Ecologic Foundation (formerly the Maruia Society), lobbied individual Labour MPs in favour of Timberlands’ logging plans, challenged Helen Clark in the Society newsletter and was guest speaker at a pro-Timberlands public meeting in Greymouth where his speech concluded with an appeal to the audience to write letters to Helen Clark (pp. 191-192).

Timberlands’ scientific allies, who had been carefully cultivated by Timberlands according to plans set out in the leaked PR documents, wrote letters to the Labour leader and her colleagues attacking conservationists and her party’s anti-native logging policies. Other organisations identified as useful allies in the leaked PR plans, such as the New Zealand Furniture Association and other timber organisations, likewise wrote to Labour MPs at key stages in the party’s internal debate over its policy.

The company cannot claim that it does not lobby. The leaked PR papers contain lobbying plans, with key targets being the relevant ministers, “advisers and government officials” and “caucus leaders/relevant spokespeople”. The plans aim to “identify relative influence among key players, their respective portfolios and viewpoints”, “scaling up [lobbying] effort for MPs whose opposition is likely to be most damaging, and those whose support is likely to be most influential” (Chapter 11).

For more information, contact Nicky Hager and Bob Burton at 04 3845074.


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