Timberlands NZ Executive Fired for Pro-Logging Guerilla E-Mail

By Bob Burton

WELLINGTON, New Zealand, January 28, 2000 (ENS) - The second in command of the New Zealand government-owned logging company, Timberlands West Coast, Ltd. chose to resign today rather than be sacked for his role in advising a pro-logging e-mail list on how to undermine the government's position against rainforest logging.


Tree felled by Timberlands in New Zealand rainforest (Photo courtesy Native Forest Action)
Thursday, New Zealand's largest environment group, the Forest and Bird Protection Society released a December 19 e-mail from Timberlands West Coast's General Manager Planning, Kit Richards, to the pro-logging e-mail group. The e-mail group, made up largely of forestry academics and industry professionals, has become a central organising point for opposition to the new government's decision to cancel a proposed beech rainforest logging scheme.

In his e-mail, Richards told the group to target the Prime Minister, Helen Clark, and the Minister responsible for Timberlands, Pete Hodgson.

"The only chance is to put real heat on [Helen] Clark and [Pete] Hodgson personally. That may not alter anything over here but unless their fingers are burnt they are not going to change. Marian Hobbs has to be another target and fast. She may not be as dyed-in-the-wool Forest and Bird as Clark ... She need to be pressured to visit and hammered over the appalling example set by her government," Richards wrote.


Kevin Smith (Photo courtesy Forest and Bird)
Executive director of Forest and Bird, Kevin Smith, said the e-mail from Richards was extraordinary. "Mr. Richards is an employee of a government-owned business but he has been advising an external pro-logging network how to overturn the government's election policy commitment to end Timberlands' native logging."

Richards also advised the e-mail group that legal action being considered by local government councils from the west coast, where the logging occurs, including lawsuits against his own organisation, might have a "positive" outcome. "Clark and Hodgson" he told the group "may be in for a shock," Richards wrote.

Last Friday a number of timber companies issued court proceedings against Pete Hodgson, the Minister for Timberlands, against Finance Minister, Michael Cullen and also against Timberlands. The lawsuit was filed over the government's pre-Christmas decision to cancel Timberlands proposed beech forests logging proposals.

The four west coast councils have filed affidavits in support of the proceedings, which are scheduled to have preliminary hearings next week.

Richards wrote, "you should be pressuring the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) to get involved also."


Helen Clark, Prime Minister of New Zealand (Photo courtesy Government of New Zealand)
The lobbying campaign on the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, commenced in December soon after the Clark government was elected, paid off. Earlier this week, the Parliamentary Commission for the Environment, which in the past has backed Timberlands logging proposals, announced an inquiry into the government's decision to cancel the logging.

The actions of Richards have infuriated Prime Minister Clark, and Hodgson. Clark and Hodgson are demanding an explanation from the chairman of Timberlands board, Warren Young, on why Richards "was participating in what amounted to guerilla warfare against the government." It is expected Young will meet Clark and Hodgson later today.

Last year it was revealed that Timberlands and its public relations company, Shandwick, had run a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign which aimed to 'neutralise likely opposition' including influencing the forestry policy of the then opposition Labour Party. Richards was one of the key Timberlands staff people involved in the lobbying campaign.

Following the Labour Party's win, Timberlands cancelled Shandwick's contract, and Young was directed to be the person responsible for all communication with the government ministers.


Pete Hodgson, the minister responsible for Timberlands (Photo courtesy Government of New Zealand)
The New Zealand Green Party, which now holds the balance of power in parliament, has demanded that the government fire Richards. Green Party Co-Leader, Rod Donald, said he believed it was totally unacceptable for public servants to be actively involved in a campaign to overturn government policy.

"This is just the latest example of Timberlands attempting to manipulate the government rather than administering government policy as a state-owned enterprise should," Donald said.

The ongoing involvement of senior Timberlands staff in a covert lobbying campaign is likely to further alienate the government, which is considering detailed proposals on how to phase out Timberlands current logging of rimu rainforests on the west coast.

"These latest disclosures suggest that within Timberlands there are deeply politicised employees of a state-owned enterprise who are prepared to put their weight behind political campaigns against the Prime Minister and key ministers," Clark and Hodgson said. "This behaviour is completely unacceptable within a public sector organisation."

After attempting to tough the controversy out, Richards resigned from his $NZ100,000 a year job. Young told the "New Zealand Herald" that "the ethical and moral standards at issue are not up to the level that the board requires of all employees of Timberlands."