Industry slams forestry reform Bill as 'cumbersome and unworkable'

The reforms are part of the Forests (Regulation of Log Traders and Forestry Advisers) Amendment Bill.
The reforms are part of the Forests (Regulation of Log Traders and Forestry Advisers) Amendment Bill. Photo credit: Getty

By Eric Frykberg of RNZ

There has been scathing criticism of the Government's latest forestry reforms at a Parliamentary select committee.

The reforms are part of the Forests (Regulation of Log Traders and Forestry Advisers) Amendment Bill, which was introduced into Parliament on Budget night] and has already surfaced for consideration at a Parliamentary select committee.

This law would require forestry advisers, log traders and exporters to join a register and agree to work on nationally agreed standards.

The aim was to reduce the number of logs being exported raw and to direct more towards New Zealand sawmills and create jobs as a result.

A series of submitters told Parliament's Environment Select Committee the law was badly designed and would be expensive and ineffectual.

One submitter, chief executive Tony Clifford of Hawke's Bay wood company Pan Pac, said the law would give too much power over the industry to a small group of people.

"One of our key concerns is the power [in the Bill] to make rules and impose costs onto the industry when very little cost-benefit analysis has been undertaken," he said.

"In our case, we just see [the law] as being cumbersome and unworkable."

Other criticism came from Don Wallace of the Farm Forestry Association, representing about 100,000 people owning shares in 14,000 small forests - many of them making little money.

He questioned the need for a new forestry authority when its work was already being done by several state and private organisations.

"We make a small amount of money out of our forests but we will lose much of that if we have to pay for another agency to duplicate the work of others that already exist."

John Tanner of the Wood Processors and Manufacturers Association came out in support of the changes, saying his industry was suffering from a shortage of logs and needed help.

"Wood processing companies are going under as we struggle to acquire a supply of logs," Dr Tanner said.

"We have recently lost a thousand jobs in six months, and that was before COVID-19."

Tanner said governments overseas were encouraging aggressive buying of New Zealand logs, at prices New Zealand mills could not afford, by subsidising their own industries, in contravention of WTO trading rules.

'This is cost-add, not value-add'

Rotorua forestry consultant Don Hammond told the select committee the proposed legislation was so bad, it did not appear to know what the problem was, let alone how to fix it, and would only make everything more expensive.

"This is cost-add, not value-add, and New Zealand has been a shocker for doing this over many years."

It was also wrong to send the law to the Environment Select Committee, which had a different focus, he said.

Hammond also complained of what he called an appalling breach of due process, with the law being rushed through the select committee under urgency.

Federated Farmers vice president Andrew Hoggard was even more scathing on this point.

"We have had less than a week to prepare our submission and then were presenting our oral submission just a couple of days later."

Hoggard compared that with far more time to prepare a submission on the law restricting firearms in the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque shooting.

"Is Parliament saying this bill is more urgent than that one was?

"Is Parliament saying this bill is more important to be passed, so we can quickly place more clipboards and red tape in the forestry sector than to remove AR15s from the community?

"This quite frankly is ridiculous."