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David Clendon on West Coast Wind-Blown Timber (Conservation Lands) Bill - Committee Stage

DAVID CLENDON (Green): We are debating Part 1, the purpose, of this unfortunate piece of legislation, the West Coast Wind-blown Timber (Conservation Lands) Bill. Of course as soon as one sees the statement of purpose, it is to allow the director-general of the Department of Conservation to authorise the removal of timber. The process that we are undertaking tonight to endeavour to embed this legislation is an offence to the democratic process. This is a significant shift in a country where we highly rate our conservation estate, where the integrity in the public domain, particularly our conservation and wilderness areas, is very close to people's hearts. Jamming this legislation through in one night, with no opportunity for the public to make comment, is an offence to the democratic process. It is also an offence to anybody with the most basic knowledge of ecology—the content and the propositions within the legislation. It is utterly offensive to stage 1 ecology students. No doubt they are laughing around the country when they read the provisions of this bill—the endeavour to rationalise it, and the claims that are made within this legislation. It is an offence at many levels, but I will confine my comments to the purpose, for the time being.

In terms of the purpose, when the purpose is stated, we have heard a number of propositions about why this legislation is going ahead—that it is ultimately a political act. It is difficult to refute that, because if one looks for a sensible, rational, logical explanation it is extremely hard to find. We hear the language from this Government about a great deal of balance—needing to balance the economy and the environment. That is a false dichotomy at every level. Joined-up thinkers, nationally and internationally, know that environmental well-being and economic well-being are in fact two sides of the same coin. You degrade one; you degrade the other. If we cause harm to the natural environment, it not only affects us as human beings. There will inevitably be a negative economic effect. Joined-up thinkers know this. This notion of this split, that one must serve the interests of the economy or of the environment, is such dated thinking as to be laughable. Unfortunately, this bill embeds that sort of very dated thinking, which probably was never right but certainly it is not appropriate. It is not acceptable in the 21st century in New Zealand. So why then are we proceeding with this? We are told that there may be economic benefit. I wonder if any members of the Government, any members from the Government who have taken calls on this bill, have actually read the regulatory impact statement. Anybody reading that document must realise that there is an underlying purpose to this bill, which is not the one that is stated. It is not about an economic well-being or an economic boost to an area where undoubtedly the economy is constantly under stress, and has been as a result of centuries of extractive industries. The economic analysis contained—it is very brief, because there is very little work being done. I actually have some sympathy for the unfortunate individual or people who were obliged to write this document, because essentially they were obliged to make it up as they went along.

DAVID CLENDON306The document tells us, for example, that there is an attempt to estimate what the income from the entire project may be. They are telling us that allowing for some—essentially the question of what the income would be is virtually impossible to calculate, because the information is not there. They have looked at the volume of timber, the likely value of the timber, the cost of extraction, and the level of opposition to the extraction, which will be significant and which will drive up the cost. They come to figures that could be anything. This is a Ministry for Primary Industries figure, in fact. Its highest estimate of overall income: $8 million. Its lowest is $810,000—a ten-fold difference in its guestimates, because, essentially, that is what they are. They are guestimates as to the likely income from this ludicrous project that is being proposed. The author of the regulatory impact statement goes on to say "I am not aware of any work that has been done to set a limit on what level of economic benefit would justify new legislation or new urgent legislation." This is being made up as people are going along. That is an extremely unsatisfactory way—to propose that we intervene in a wilderness area, in a conservation area, in a way that we know will be destructive to the ecological values and the future economic value in terms of tourism. We know, for example, that the Ministry for Primary Industries has warned us. This is not the Greens or Labour making things up. The Ministry for Primary Industries has raised concerns "about the potential for a spike in supply to have negative effects on the sustainable forestry industry overall." So the existing industry can be undermined. We have no idea what suddenly putting this volume of logs on the market would do to the cost, to the price. But we can make some pretty bold assumptions. Economics 101, supply and demand: dump an oversupply on the market; it will very quickly drop the price. It will drive down whatever economic value there may ever have been, and which in any case we know will not compensate for the substantial ecological value. We are told that this will provide a research opportunity. We will be able to research the effect of the removal of wind-blown timber from a forest ecosystem. What an interesting proposition that is! The research question would have to be how badly this ecosystem would be impacted on by the removal of these logs. It is not a question of whether there will be an adverse effect; it is how long the ecosystem will take to recover, and whether it will be able to recover, in fact, to anything resembling the ecosystem that was there prior to the cyclone. It could, if we leave it alone, be restored in its own right. It is simply dishonest to suggest there is a need for such research. This document, the regulatory impact statement, flimsy though it be, has two pages of references and commentary about scientific research and some recent publications.

We know very well that species, as it tells us, are resilient to wind damage. While individual trees—and, indeed, many trees—can be knocked down, the ecosystem can come back. That is the nature of resilience. If you have sufficient diversity in an ecosystem, if you allow the system to work in its own way, to recover in its own way, it will restore itself. That is the wonderful thing about nature. It is self-restoring. An intervention of the scale that is proposed here will deny that ecosystem the ability to restore itself. You will be left with degraded land. We will take away the nutrients that are required for the regrowth. We will take away the areas where seedlings can be protected as they grow back. We will take away the habitat for the insects, for the invertebrates, for the bird species, for the mammals, which are, many of them, rare and possibly endangered. All of that we are going to take away for the spurious claim that it will derive or generate economic benefit. It is simply dishonest to suggest that there is any net economic benefit from such a bizarre undertaking.

The industry tells us, again, that clearing wind-blown timber is an extremely dangerous proposition. You do not put untrained, unskilled people into that environment, because you will have serious injuries and you will have deaths. To carry through this task to get that timber out would require teams of extremely well-trained, experienced, and well-equipped people. This idea I think people might have in their minds—because the Government is try to sell this—of a very light-handed intervention, large helicopters coming in carefully selecting logs and removing them, is nonsense. This would be a major intervention with heavy machinery on very fragile, delicate ecosystems. It was unfortunate. One of the works in progress, this consultation, we are told, with Ngāi Tahu—at the time that the regulatory impact statement was written, that was a work in progress. We heard an unfortunate comment earlier this evening that Māori would understand the pragmatic, practical benefit of removing this resource, so-called. I find that quite offensive. I think cultural harvest has a long-term place. In the long-term there is a place for cultural harvest in our conservation estate. That is a contested notion, and I am willing to have that contest; I am not suggesting at this time. The idea that Māori would accept the notion that you can go in mob-handed and start tearing out massive volumes of wood, irreversibly damaging a very fragile ecosystem, denying it the right to regenerate naturally—to say that Māori would somehow be involved in that, would tolerate that or accept it, is simply offensive, again. Yes, back in the day the tūpuna, after a major storm event, might have taken advantage of fallen trees.