INDEPENDENT NEWS

Collusion? Again?

Published: Fri 15 Oct 1999 01:00 PM
State Owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall's attempts to sabotage Labour's indigenous forests policy with a series of childish ankle-taps raise further questions of political collusion between National and Timberlands West Coast, says Labour's forestry spokesperson Pete Hodgson.
"We now have what looks like a litany of beat-ups and set-ups orchestrated by a minister and a publicly-owned company for political purposes. The various attacks on Labour have in common a dodginess that crosses the line of political debate and enters the realm of unconstitutional and possibly illegal behaviour."
Mr Hodgson said Mr Ryall's attacks included:
· a claim that Labour's policy would cost 4000 jobs in the furniture industry;
· a claim that Ngai Tahu's right of first refusal if Timberlands is sold would thwart Labour's policy, and that Labour had not taken that into account;
· a claim that large beech contracts had been signed days before Labour's policy announcement, just days after the Government agreed in principle to the beech scheme and some days before resource consent applications for the scheme had been lodged.
"I am prepared to believe that the first two attempts, both facile and grossly wrong, came from within the minister's own fantasy world. But the third is more of a concern. It suggests political collusion between a minister and a state-owned enterprise to attempt to sabotage the policy of the incoming Labour-led Government.
"Earlier collusion between Timberlands and ministers has been documented in a book. It would seem that blaze of publicity has not blunted the collusion but intensified it.
"It is beyond belief that the Government would give Timberlands conditional agreement in principle to the beech scheme on August 24, then on October 14 announce that in late August and early September large and binding beech logging contracts were signed in the absence of resource consents. Labour's policy was announced on September 10.
"These contracts are for individual quantities unknown, with parties unknown, from forest working circles unknown. The minister has not said when he was advised of the contracts or when he first knew that they were being negotiated. He has not said whether they went to tender and if not, whether he was comfortable with that.
"Mr Ryall is reported in today's New Zealand Herald saying through a spokesman that the contracts are actually "heads of agreement, agreements in principle, rather than detailed contracts". Timberlands' chief executive Dave Hilliard told Kim Hill on National Radio this morning that Timberlands "had heads of agreement with these people for some time, dating back to June of this year" and the contracts were "full contracts". Then he said they were conditional on the company getting resource consents.
"What will they say about these contracts tomorrow?
"Labour knows full well that affidavits will be prepared to assert that the contracts were not backdated. Equally, backdating contracts is a relatively easy, though illegal activity.
"The contracts have not been made public. They should be. More importantly the minister must state the day on which he first became aware they had been signed, and release the relevant communications from Timberlands.
"This latest stunt from Mr Ryall is just the latest episode in National's dirty tricks campaign. This dying Government cannot fight on its record, so it fights dirty."

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