Two Labour MPs have crossed the floor to support the windblown timber bill being debated under Urgency in Parliament
Damien O’Connor and Rino Tirikatene backed the Government’s bill to allow the retrieval of trees felled in Cyclone Ita from some parts of the West Coast conservation estate, while their colleagues opposed it.
O’Connor attacked the bill during the debate on the first reading, but the debate was completed by 72 to 46 with National, NZ First, Maori Party, United Future, Brendan Horan and two Labour votes in favour.
At the beginning of the debate Conservation Minister Nick Smith said the damage done by Cyclone Ita was substantial and an environmental tragedy. It left a dilemma about what to do with the wood.
The West Coast Wind-blown Timber (Conservation Lands) Bill
had to be passed urgently as the beech which could be recovered would be too rotten by spring, other wood would last longer and this could be recovered over the five year life of the bill.
It would have been complex to allow the timber retrieval under existing rules and the bill would exclude the high conservation value areas such as National Parks, but it would be allowed in some of the conservation estate. There would be conditions over safety and environmental protections.
Smith said arguments the removal of timber would prevent regeneration was wrong because only a small amount would be recovered. He said Labour was split on the issue and claimed West Coast MP Damien O’Connor could cross the floor.
The wood would provide jobs in the West Coast, Smith said.
Labour’s Ruth Dyson said the bill was not a serious attempt to help West Coast, but a political stunt. The Conservation Act provided for storm felled timber to remain on the ground, so forests could regenerate.
If the bill would provide long term jobs on the West Coast, Labour would support it, but there was no commitment in the Bill to this.
Dyson said the bill would rule out Resource Management Act provisions and it would “devastate” the timber sector who had permits to log native timber as the market would be flooded.
West Coast MP Damien O’Connor said he would support the bill if it guaranteed the jobs created by the log retrieval would stay on the West Coast. The Government wanted the logs exported from his electorate, he said.
There was potential from the logs on the ground, but it would be dangerous to retrieve and much of it would have to be helicoptered out.
He had some “interesting and robust” debates with his colleagues; he believed the logs could be removed without environmental damage. O’Connor said he believed only the rimu would be worth extracting and they would be extracted by logging crews from outside the West Coast and processed elsewhere.
The Greens totally opposed the bill as it believed all the conservation estate should be protected, Eugenie Sage said.
NZ First MP Richard Prosser said the bill should not be passed under Urgency, but it would be supported to committee stage where it wanted changes to made. NZ First wanted the jobs created to go to New Zealand companies and preferably West Coast ones with no logs exported and 25% of royalties to go back to the region. It also wanted the RMA to apply to the operations.
Maori Party Leader Te Ururoa Flavell said the cyclone had caused terrible damage, but this was nature at work. Local Maori felt the felled timber should be used without wasting it. The timber would not be taken from National Parks or other high value conservation land and the conditions would ensure a small proportion of logs were removed in a safe and environmentally friendly way.
After the vote on the first reading MPs moved immediately to the second reading.
The bill completed its second reading by 65 to 51 with National, Maori Party, United Future, Brendan Horan and two Labour votes in favour.
NZ First reversed its initial support in the first reading.
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