In my entire adult life, I have yet to see a cabinet minister stand in front of the citizens of New Zealand trying to defend the indefensible which such feigned indignation.
Such was the performance of Stuart Nash, Minister for Forestry in PM Chris Hipkins’ Labour Government as the opening item on Thursdays’ TV One Network News.
What made it worse was the fact that his Prime Minister stood right beside him - ostensibly to offer support if he stumbled in delivering the news that the government had changed its mind and was now agreeing to a limited enquiry into aspects of the Forestry industry in this country.
This was a disgraceful exhibition of disingenuous deception presumably designed to satisfy the growing demands for an enquiry that would have the capacity to get to the truth of the matter - something that is unlikely to happen given the parameters surrounding the terms of reference and the limited time for submissions.
This version can best be described as a Clayton’s enquiry - the one you have when you’re not having an enquiry!
Once again, we have been duped into thinking that this bunch of vandals has any intention of delivering a verdict that clearly establishes blame for the industry practices that have been responsible for so much destruction and makes recommendations for changes that are meaningful and effective.
Like all politicians, Nash will know that any enquiry worth its salt will implicate Government ideologically driven policy as one of the main culprits when apportioning blame. That is why he has done his best to limit the opportunity for this one to get to the bottom of what really happened - another unfortunate “experiment” that has been years in the making but still a disaster that could have been avoided.
Here’s what happened, who is to blame and how do we stop it happening again.
1) The History
Much of the damage to the East Coast environment and communities that is attributable to the Forestry industry expansion had already begun before the first pine tree was planted.
The current forest estate was initially a response to the severe erosion on hill country throughout the Tairawhiti region and successive governments have supported the expansion of an industry that has unfortunately consumed everything in its path and depopulating much of the landscape in the process.
It is no secret that the initial trees were designed as much as anything to replace the native ground cover mainly in the gullies that had been cleared right down to the water courses when the early settlers established pasture on the hills and, as a result, left the unstable creek beds vulnerable to the eroding effects of excessive rainfall events.
That early development has resulted in limited success in halting the big slips occurring even within the forested estate itself but the genie was already out of the bottle.
Some years ago an attempt was made to limit the excesses of this seemingly uncontrollable monster, as it rampaged its way across the landscape, in the form of a local bi-law that restricted the planting of pine trees on anything other than classes 6 and 7 marginal land.
In hindsight, had that restrictive law still been in place and the policing of the resource consents that ensured the planting of gullies with permanent trees been a priority, the damage we are experiencing now would have at least been limited to the trash that was already in the water courses. Therein lies two of the culprits when apportioning blame and again in hindsight, it is fair to say that the forestry companies are less responsible for the carnage because they can say, with some justification, that they were only doing what they were allowed to get away with.
The Council’s lax policing of the consents was, in my humble opinion and, hopefully will also be in the eyes of the enquiry, so much more of a blatant misuse of their authority.
2) the real culprit.
In spite of Nash’s deliberate attempt to transfer his government’s share of the blame to the relatively innocent forestry companies, the truth is that the Labour government’s obsession with achieving its net zero emissions reduction targets by 2050 has allowed the associated carbon economy to add to the destruction of these rural communities.
I have been telling them for years that they could have achieved all those idealogical targets without encroaching on a single hectare of pristine grazing land simply by reintroducing the redundant bi-law as a means of restricting the forestry to classes 6 and 7 marginal hill country of which we have an abundance.
It seems a simple and reasonable solution but unfortunately we are not talking about reasonable people here and the chances of us being able to present these ideas to the enquiry are about as likely as me winning Lotto!
You decide who is telling the truth.
3) what now.
Apart from establishing the truth about the history of the forestry industry and the implications of retaining it as part of our future economy, we must be prepared to do what is necessary in order to restructure our economy in mitigation against the threat of climate change.
I believe it is possible for us to do so in a way that allows the forestry industry to peacefully coexist along with its traditional (although reduced) livestock industry and a new fully irrigated 18000 hectare Poverty Bay Flats. The Gisborne harbour board alone is one associated entity that depends almost totally on a viable forestry industry.
I also believe that which ever government is in power, it will be happy to fund the bulk of these costly restructuring developments. Like us, it has little option but to do the right thing in the best interests of its constituents and fellow citizens.
I have set out a realistic plan were we really do have the opportunity to turn this community into the promised land where every person has equal opportunity to develop their own natural talents and enjoy the benefits of that hard work.
What more do you want.