Two Labour MPs crossed the floor to support the windblown timber bill being debated under urgency yesterday:
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. . . .
O’Connor noisily declined a place on Labour’s list before the last election, he’s back on it this time but if he’s prepared to demonstrate the internal divisions in the party so dramatically he would have been better to keep off it again.
The two Labour votes weren’t needed to pass the Bill so the floor-crossing was playing to the gallery in the electorates they hope will vote for them.
That might help them stay in parliament but confirmation of disunity will make it more difficult for them, and their party, to get into government.
National is united and standing tall, Labour is divided and falling in the polls:
Support for the Labour Party has dropped 2.2 percent to 27.3 percent in the latest 3 News-Reid Research poll – lower than its share of the vote at the last election.
The poll surveyed 750 eligible New Zealander voters between June 19 and 25, amid the controversy over businessman Donghua Liu’s alleged donations to Labour.
Labour leader David Cunliffe received his lowest rating since taking over the role in November last year. Only 26.3 percent of those surveyed think he is performing well as leader of the Opposition.
National is meanwhile polling at 49.7 percent, down 0.6 percent from the last poll – but still indicating it could govern alone with a 63-seat share of a 122-seat Parliament.
John Key has been given his highest rating as preferred Prime Minister since November 2011, with 46.7 percent support.
On this question Mr Cunliffe is polling in single figures, down 0.2 percent to 9.6 percent.
Mr Key has also received his highest rating since November 2011 when it comes to people who think he is a capable leader – 82.3 percent say he is.
NZ First received only 3.6 percent of the vote, dropping 2 percent from the last poll and placing them under the 5 percent party vote threshold for getting into Parliament.
However the Green Party are up 2.5 percent to 12.7 percent, and the Conservative Party are back up at 2.8 percent – equalling their highest-ever poll result so far.
Hone Harawira and Kim Dotcom’s project Internet Mana debuts at 1.8 percent.
The full results are here and give a total of 69 seats to National and its coalition partners and only 53 to the combined left.
It is very unlikely the results will be this good for National in the election but with less than three months until the election there’s not much time for Labour to get better.
And if they keep looking divided they’re more likely to continue falling than start climbing.