Fired-up MP defends decision to cross floor

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Damien O'Connor. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Damien O'Connor. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Fired-up West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O'Connor says he would probably have crossed the floor in Parliament last night to support wind-throw logging on the Coast, with or without the blessing of the Labour Party.

He and Te Tai Tonga MP Rino Tirikatene voted with the National Government to help pass Conservation Minister Nick Smith's special legislation to allow commercial extraction of wind-throw from parts of the West Coast conservation estate.

Rather than a sign of division within the Labour Party ranks, Mr O'Connor said today his move last night was a sign of confidence that party leader David Cunliffe had allowed two MPs to break ranks with the party view.

The rebel MPs unsuccessfully sought amendments to make sure profits from the sale of the logs stayed within the immediate community on the Coast.

Mr O'Connor last crossed the floor in the House in 2000, again over native logging, when he defied former conservation minister Sandra Lee, who refused permission to log the vast wind-throw at Hannahs Clearing, south of Haast.

Asked this morning if he would have defied the party last night without the okay from Mr Cunliffe, Mr O'Connor said "my colleagues appreciate my determination in some areas".

Mr O'Connor said he would be "scrutinising the process" to ensure the Coast benefited, and the logs were not just trucked or flown out of the region.

However, Dr Smith said the decision of the two Labour MPs to vote against their party showed the deep divisions within Labour over natural resource issues.

"These splits in Labour follow other contradictions over oil and gas exploration in Taranaki this week, and the departure of Shane Jones because of their anti-development policies," Dr Smith said.

New Zealand was not so wealthy a country that it could leave thousands of tonnes of valuable windblown timber to rot, he said.

The law would provide welcome opportunities for jobs and economic activity on the West Coast, and earn extra revenue for the Department of Conservation.

"We have taken a balanced approach in excluding the most valued conservation areas on the West Coast like World Heritage Areas, national parks and ecological areas. The law requires that the director-general of conservation, in granting authorisations to remove the timber, ensures the environmental impacts are minimised and that all practical steps are taken to ensure that the work is carried out safely."

National Party list MP Chris Auchinvole said it seemed to him that Labour was "riven with division on this issue".

"The reason is two-fold: it wants to cuddle up to the Greens, and it has a tradition of treating the Coast with contempt," Mr Auchinvole said.

The West Coast Windblown Timber (Conservation Lands) Bill was passed 65-51. National won the backing of United Future and the Maori Party.

- The Greymouth Star

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