A controversial law change to allow companies to remove "windblown" timber from conservation land has divided the Labour Party and caused bitter dispute within Parliament.
Two Labour electorate MPs crossed the floor and voted against their party by supporting National's plan to open up large tracts of the West Coast of the South Island for logging, but not before making heated attacks on Government.
Around 20,000 hectares 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 and was expected to pass into law last night. In its early stages it was supported by National, New Zealand First, United Future, Brendan Horan and two Labour MPs.
Labour's West Coast MP Damien O'Connor and Te Tai Tonga MP Rino Tirikatene went against their party by voting in support, but had sought amendments to make sure profits stayed within the immediate community.
In a heated first reading debate, Mr O'Connor accused "arrogant Tories" of arranging to remove the commercial logging profits from the West Coast region.
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."
In opening the debate, Conservation Minister Nick Smith said there was no reason to leave the fallen timber untouched.
"This country is not so wealthy that it can allow beautiful, valuable, native timber to be left to rot."
Opposition parties wanted the law change to be put out for public consulation, but Dr 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 20,000 hectares 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, he said: "I've heard some silly ideas in my day, that one would have to take the cake."
He said Government would never set up "individual custom areas" where wood could not be moved from.
The Green Party opposed the bill on the grounds that it was opening up the conservation estate by stealth and because removing trees would interrupt the natural ecological cycle.
Conservation spokeswoman Eugenie Sage said access roads and logging activities would damage conservation land further.
The Maori Party also supported the bill.