MP takes aim at 'arrogant' Brownlee
A controversial law change to allow companies to remove “windblown” timber from conservation land caused bitter dispute within Parliament last night.
Two Labour electorate MPs, Damien O’Connor and Rino Tirikatene, crossed the floor and voted against their party by supporting National’s plan to open up large tracts of the West Coast for logging, but not before making heated attacks on the Government.
An esimtated 20,000ha of forest was felled by Cyclone Ita in April and a law change was required to allow beech, rimu, totara and matai trees to be harvested on the conservation estate — on the condition that they were taken outside classified areas and used for finished products and not firewood or wood chips.
The bill was debated under urgency, supported by National, New Zealand First, United Future, Brendan Horan and two Labour MPs.
In a heated first reading debate, Mr O’Connor accused “arrogant Tories” of arranging to remove the commercial logging profits from the West Coast.
He personally targeted cabinet minister Gerry Brownlee, whose family owned a timber business in Christchurch.
“If ever there was a person who epitomised the history of the West Coast then it was that one,” Mr O’Connor said.
“Arrogant, patronising, preaching from someone sitting over in Christchurch about what is best for the West Coast, when his family for generations took the sawmilling and their profits over the hill.
“Don’t come preaching from your bloody Fendalton home, Mr Brownlee.”
Opposition parties wanted the law change to be put out for public consultation, but Conservation Minister Nick Smith said urgency was needed because the beech trees would spoil quickly.
The minister tried to reassure Green critics, who worried about the removal of crucial nutrients from the forest ecosystem, saying that only a fraction of the 20,000ha of felled forest would be removed and “oodles” of biomass would remain “for the bugs and slugs to consume”.
Responding to Labour’s proposal to limit profits to the West Coast, Dr Smith said: “I’ve heard some silly ideas in my day, that one would have to take the cake.”
The Green Party opposed the bill on the grounds that it was opening up the conservation estate by stealth and because dead and felled trees remained important to the forest ecosystem.
Conservation spokeswoman Eugenie Sage said access roads and logging activities would damage conservation land further.