Partridge on Jones’ harmful forestry bill


CS Lewis once warned that of all tyrannies, “a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies”.

The great 20th century writer might have been describing Minister ’ new Bill to “fix” the forestry industry.

Great comparison.

Jones has decided the industry can’t fend for itself and needs an extra dose of regulation. Yet his actions suggest the industry’s interests are not his main priority. His innocuous sounding Forests (Regulation of Log Traders and Forestry Advisers) Amendment Bill will sacrifice the interests of forest owners – among them North Island iwi owners – in favour of utopian plans for an enhanced domestic wood processing sector, which Jones hopes will boost employment, especially in his homeland in the Far North.

The whole premise is the Ministers know better than the individual forestry businesses what people want to buy. Forestry companies tend to sell raw logs because that is what other companies want to buy. But Jones is saying oh no we must turn the logs into finished products and hey presto then they’ll buy those instead.

The Bill was introduced into Parliament under urgency on May 14. Indeed, Jones was in such a hurry that he gave the industry only a week to provide submissions to the Select Committee considering the Bill. (And for reasons best known to the Minister, the Environment Select Committee has been tasked with evaluating the Bill, not the better qualified Primary Production Select Committee.)

One week for submissions for a major law change. Disgusting. And the choice of committee is no doubt that the Government has a majority on one and not the other. They want to ram it through.

The Bill then proposes extensive regulation-making powers. Regulations may permit the Forestry Authority to set open ended “conditions of registration” and other rules imposing obligations on forestry owners, giving the Minister and the Authority a means of controlling the sale of logs by forest owners.

Using these rules, the new Forestry Authority could, for example, require forest owners to divert or withhold a proportion of their logs destined for international export markets to support Jones’ hoped-for new domestic timber processing industry, possibly even at subsidised “domestic” prices.

So instead of forestry companies being able to decide for themselves who they sell to, the Minister could then require them to see to local businesses in Northland at a subsidised price.

Unsurprisingly, in its submission the Legislation Design and Advisory Committee raised concerns about the consistency of the Bill with “fundamental constitutional principles and the rule of law.” Indeed, the Committee even raises concerns about the legitimacy of the provisions in the Bill which purport to grant regulation-making power to an “undefined private body.”

Maybe the intended body is the NZ First Foundation?

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