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The Issues Behind The Labour Logging Decision

The Labour Party has bought a fight on the West Coast of the South Island not only over its proposal to end indigenous logging if it gets elected, but also over the way it made its decision. Scoop's West Coast correspondent, John Howard, reports.

In a move likely to inflame demands from other impoverished region's of New Zealand, Labour proposes to end logging of indigenous beech trees and in return it will hand over to a West Coast Economic Development Trust, exotic pine plantations valued at around $68 million along with management rights over indigenous forests deemed not to have significant conservation values.

Labour will also give the trust $2 million annually in coal levies, $600,000 of Ministry of Commerce royalties and around $1.5 million a year in lieu of rates locked up in Crown-owned land. There would also be subsidies to upgrade sewerage systems in Greymouth and Westport.

To the casual observer this sounds fair enough. But the trust may need an additional $100 million, according to West Coast Regional Council chairman and Coast Action Network lobbyist, John Clayton. He said the proposed trust would not be able to rely on income from Timberlands exotic timber as it many not be profitable without native logging.

With the South Island exotic forest production set to double, Timberlands could struggle and the West Coast could need a big injection of capital to make up for an estimated 200 jobs linked to the beech scheme that would be axed under Labour, he said.

Millions of hectares of pine forests previously locked-up in Russia are also due to come on to the world market now that access roads and other infrastructure has been built.

Mr Clayton said, "If we are going to miss out on a couple of hundred jobs forever and a day, I would expect we could want up to $100 million or more in this community trust immediately."

He also questioned Labour's intention to pay grants to the trust in lieu of rates on Crown land which, he said, removed local authorities from the equation. "They are not guaranteeing it to the Council's who are losing it, they are guaranteeing it to another legal entity."

In fact, there are no guarantee's at all, just political pre-election words which many New Zealanders simply don't trust. West Coaster's are also concerned just who might be on the trust and whether it will be appointed or elected.

What has particularly inflamed West Coaster's was Helen Clark's statement at a Greypower meeting in Nelson last week that she was "willing to engage in discussions with West Coast people when they were."

The statement was widely reported in West Coast newspapers and Coast Action Network chairman, Barry Nicolle, described it as "cynical engineering." The facts were very different, he said.

"For months, West Coast people had been trying to get both Alliance and Labour MP's down to see the Coast forestry operations with their own eyes, but to no avail." Mr Nicolle said he met with Ms Clark in Wellington five weeks ago and she had promised a meeting before any policy decision on Coast forests were made.

"Next thing I knew, Labour was announcing its intent to kill the opportunity for over 200 jobs and $300 million in a high value niche industry in the regional economy."

Most West Coaster's see Labour's decisions as a denial of natural justice and lack of consultation with decisions being made without any impact analysis or study on the regional economy. For a Party which stands on the principles of justice, equity and fair play, they see that as an outrageous abuse.

The West Coast and, I dare say, many other regions have been screwed by past Government's and Crown agencies stripping profits from resources such as coal and timber into its coffers without sharing equitably or returning the benefits.

For instance, $3 million in coal levies is taken by the Government with none of it returned to the West Coast. And when the Ports were privatised West Coast council's, unlike other council's, got no shares. Moreover, they kept their power company in a community trust until they were forced by Government to sell it off. Meanwhile, 87% of West Coast land is already locked-up in conservation estate.

The issue is not just about the environment; it is about the three E's of sustainable development, - Environment, Equity and Economy. It's also about the right of a local community to self-determination.

Since Labour has already made its policy decisions without consultation, this fight could end up back in Parliament after the election through calls for a select-committee hearing over Labours proposals or even in the United Nations. The alternative is a growing South Island separatist movement.


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