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Eugenie Sage on the West Coast Wind-blown Timber (Conservation Lands) Bill, Committee stages – Part 2

Going back to the research programme, it is interesting that the Minister in the chair, the Minister of Conservation, has not taken a single call to answer any of the questions that have been put by the Opposition members. The National members are not taking any calls either to defend this bill, the West Coast Wind-blown Timber (Conservation Lands) Bill. Once again, the Government members are not committed to this legislation in the sense of being able to defend it. They are quite happy for our conservation lands to be opened up to logging without even echoing any concerns. That is why the Department of Conservation analysis in the regulatory impact statement is very telling.

Going back to this research programme, that is going to be quite comprehensive—across a large number of forest types, slopes, and geologies. It will have multiple research sites, with measurement undertaken under a long time period to track the changes. It is going to cover a wide variety of physical matters. So why is this comprehensive research programme being established, unless the Government wants to open up conservation lands generally to logging? That is just the sort of philosophy we have with this Government. It fails to understand that for a healthy economy we need a healthy environment. It has got a whole history of opening up our protected areas to resource use. This bill is the very latest in that whole "dig it, irrigate it, mine it, drill it, and—now—log it" philosophy.

This part of the bill, Part 2, has a lot of the detail around how the conservation lands are going to be logged. Certainly, there has to be an authorisation by the director-general, but this part allows anyone to apply for that. It cuts across the Resource Management Act. This bill is making it easier to log on public conservation land than it is for private landowners to log on private land. That is because on private land those forest owners have got to satisfy the Forests Act, they have got to have a sustainable management plan or sustainable management permit approved by the Ministry for Primary Industries and the secretary of forests, and they have got to comply with any necessary provisions in the Resource Management Act—any requirements for a resource consent to clear vegetation and any requirements for land disturbance consents to control the amount of sediment that ends up in streams. But what does this part of the bill do? It rides roughshod over that. It specifically excludes the provisions of the Resource Management Act from applying and it excludes the provisions of the Forests Act from applying.

So you will get a consenting regime that is only administered by the Department of Conservation without the department having any expertise in how to manage logging. When you get to clause 10, that has got some requirements that the director-general must be satisfied about before he grants an authorisation. But, again, these provisions are very vague. They have very general terms, such as it only "so far as is reasonably practicable," that the safety of people working at the site is protected. Since when has the Department of Conservation had the expertise in occupational safety that the Ministry of Business, Employment and Innovation has? Why is the Department of Conservation going to be responsible for managing safety? There is a real risk here, given the huge number of deaths and serious injuries in the forestry industry, that we will get that compounded by allowing logging on conservation land, particularly because in the circumstances of wind throw you have a higgledy-piggledy, pick-up-sticks mess of logs that are subject to considerable tension. If you remove one, there is the risk of that tension being removed and damaging workers and causing serious injury and, potentially, fatalities.

The other provision that the director-general has to take account of is keeping the adverse effects on the environment to a minimum. What on earth does that mean? This provision, with its lack of specificity, gives huge discretion to the director-general. Those powers are likely to be delegated, so you will get some staffer in the West Coast conservancy in Hokitika making a decision about whether forests should be open for logging. What will they do? They will be told by the loggers that they need to log healthy trees because they cannot get access to the wind-thrown timber by helicopter.

Chris Auchinvole: Oh, rubbish!

EUGENIE SAGE: Yes, that is exactly what happened with Timberlands.

Chris Auchinvole: You don't know that.

EUGENIE SAGE: We do know that, Mr Auchinvole, because that is what happened with Timberlands. When we had the helicopter logging on the West Coast—