Editorial: Taxpayers shouldn't pay for clean-up

By Dylan Thorne

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So, New Zealand's worst environmental maritime disaster could cost taxpayers as much as $50 million.

I'm sure, given the scale of the disaster, few would be surprised by the size of the bill for the Rena clean-up.

However, it is disturbing that taxpayers are having to foot such a large part of the bill for this man-made catastrophe.

Last week, the Government confirmed that Maritime New Zealand has already spent $27 million on the clean-up and has requested $10 million more.

The total cost incurred by all Crown departments and Crown entities as of February 21 was about $38.9 million, leaving the estimated eventual cost around $50 million.

There is still oil, cargo and debris that remain a risk to the marine and coastal environment and related economic activities.

The work, of course, has to be done to protect the marine environment but it is unfair that taxpayers are having to stump up $50 million, instead of the owners of the Rena.

Many Bay businesses have already been left out of pocket by the disaster.

In January, the Bay of Plenty tourism industry put losses from the Rena at up to $1.2 million a day.

These business owners will feel aggrieved that, via taxes, they are also paying for the clean-up.

The Government appears to be taking a step in the right direction with a bill to be introduced to Parliament to increase the limitation of liability from $12 million to $24 million.

The Marine Protection Legislation Amendment Bill will double the current limitation on oil pollution but that still falls short given what we have learned from the Rena disaster.

If the clean-up is going to cost $50 million then, in my opinion, that amount should be paid by the shipping company. The Rena's owners and insurers have said they are in negotiations with the Government to reimburse their costs. However, a law change is needed that will prevent taxpayers having to fork out again in the future and will place responsibility firmly at the feet of those responsible for such disasters.

This is needed to ensure this kind of grounding doesn't happen off New Zealand's coastline again.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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