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Second reading: Forests (West Coast Accord) Bill

Tuesday, 19 September 2000 Speech Notes
Hon Pete Hodgson

Mr Speaker, I move that the Forests (West Coast Accord) Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill implements the Government’s decisions to bring the West Coast Accord to an end and cancel any remaining obligations. The Bill also enables the status of West Coast indigenous production forest land previously subject to the Accord to be changed, to conservation areas, reserves, additions to national parks, or unallocated Crown land as necessary.

Less than 7% of New Zealand’s original lowland forests remain and the West Coast forests covered by this Bill are an important part of this remnant. That is why the Government will be moving to give many of these forests protection in the conservation estate.

The Bill had its first reading on 18 May and was referred to the Local Government and Environment Committee, which was asked to report back by 3 August. Given the number of submissions received, this was extended to 24 August.

The Committee received 229 submissions, of which 73 were supported by oral evidence in Wellington, Christchurch and Hokitika.

I am pleased to note the Committee presented its report to the House on 21 August and I thank the Committee for its efficiency.

The Committee has proposed a number of changes to the Bill. I will summarise the main changes and respond to the issue of access to mining, which was raised in the Select Committee process but has not specifically been addressed in the Bill.

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The Bill as introduced cancels the Accord on 10 May 2000, to give the Government the ability to demonstrate its intent should any litigation arise before introduction. As litigation did not arise before the Bill was introduced, the Committee has recommended that the Accord be cancelled at the start of 15 May 2000, the date of the Bill’s introduction.

The lands covered by the Bill are identified in Schedule 1. The Bill as introduced allowed the Governor-General to add land, omit land, or change the descriptions of land in the Schedule, on the recommendation of responsible Ministers.

Submitters were concerned that this did not specifically restrict that power to land previously subject to the Accord.

The Bill as amended clarifies that land to be added can only be West Coast indigenous production forest land owned by the Crown and managed by Timberlands West Coast Limited, at the commencement of the Act. The power to omit land from the Schedule is removed, but the ability to correct descriptions is retained.

Many submitters supported the mechanism to enable West Coast indigenous production forest land previously subject to the Accord to be added to the conservation estate. But concerns were raised as to whether the Bill would allow normal statutory processes to be overridden in making additions to national parks.

The Bill as amended provides that responsible Ministers must not make a declaration, in respect to additions to national parks, unless the Minister of Conservation has recommended they do so. The Minister of Conservation can only make such a recommendation based on the recommendation of the New Zealand Conservation Authority, made after consultation with the appropriate Conservation Board. The New Zealand Conservation Authority may investigate the proposal to add the land to a national park under section 8 of the National Parks Act.

A number of submitters questioned the capacity of the Department of Conservation to manage the extra land to be transferred through this Bill. In the Local Government and Environment Committee’s consideration of the 2000/01 Estimates for Vote Conservation, assurances were sought that the Department would be able to manage the lands effectively. These assurances have been given by my colleague, the Minister of Conservation.

A number of submitters expressed concerns about the provisions in the Bill that save existing encumbrances. There was concern that letting activities allowed by the encumbrances to continue would be incompatible with protecting the conservation values of the land. To address these concerns and others raised by the Committee a number of changes are proposed.

Firstly, only encumbrances that pre-date the introduction of the Bill will be saved. To discourage applications for encumbrances being lodged in anticipation of a declaration being made, the Bill will save only encumbrances in force on 15 May 2000, or for which negotiations were entered into before that date, on the terms in force or being negotiated at that date.

Secondly, minor variations to encumbrances will be allowed. As introduced, the Bill excluded variations made to existing encumbrances after a declaration takes effect. Some submitters and the Committee considered this unnecessarily restrictive. The Bill now allows variations to an existing encumbrance without triggering the requirement to apply for a concession. The variation must either reduce the adverse effects or term of the activity, be minor and technical, or not increase the adverse effects, the term or location of the activity.

Thirdly, the Bill now provides a sunset clause for existing encumbrances with unspecified expiry terms. A time limit of 10 years from the date of an applicable declaration will apply. Ten years is a reasonable period for encumbrance holders to be informed of the potential expiry of their encumbrance and to apply for a concession. The sunset provision does not apply to encumbrances granted in perpetuity or statutory licences such as those under telecommunications or electricity legislation.

During the submission process Timberlands West Coast Limited and Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu raised the issue of access over Crown-owned indigenous production forest land to Ngai Tahu land, on which the company manages commercial plantation forests. So that plantation forest production is not detrimentally affected, access rights need to be preserved over land that Timberlands currently manages, but which may be transferred to the management of the Ministers of Conservation or Land Information.

The Bill has a new clause to enable the relevant Minister to grant easements in the form of access rights to Ngai Tahu to comply with the Ngai Tahu Deed of Settlement. The new clause emulates section 41 of the Ngai Tahu Claims Settlement Act.

In the event of an application by an encumbrance holder to exchange an encumbrance for a concession, the Bill as amended allows the Minister of Conservation to have regard to the nature of the activity and its effects. The Minister may also seek further relevant information to enable sufficient assessment of effects.

Unique provisions apply in the case of an exchange. The Minister of Conservation cannot decline to grant the concession but may impose conditions to offset any adverse effects.

The Bill makes no specific reference to the Pike River Coalfield. Following the Bill’s introduction, I wrote to the Pike River Coal Company Limited. I advised that the Government continues to support the concept of the Pike River coal development provided it has low environmental impact and complies with all relevant conservation management planning documents, and other statutory requirements. The existence of the West Coast Accord did not alter any of these requirements.

I also drew the company’s attention to the provision in the Bill that enables the draft West Coast Conservation Management Strategy to be reviewed or amended. This gives the Pike River Coal Company the opportunity to make submissions on access and other mining-related issues.

General access for mining purposes to the land covered by this Bill is provided for in existing legislation. Changing the status of land under the Bill will not close the land to mining. A prospective miner will need to apply for an access arrangement under the Crown Minerals Act in the usual way.

This Government, together with a large number of New Zealanders, considers it is no longer acceptable for trees to be logged from Crown-managed forests with significant conservation and ecological values. This Bill is a significant step in making the Government’s policy of ending this logging a reality.

Graeme Speden, press secretary, 04 471 9707 or 025 270 9055

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