17 Jun 2015

Northland leader calls for halt to swamp kauri trade

11:27 am on 17 June 2015

A Northland Maori leader is calling for a moratorium on the mining of swamp kauri and a review of the laws that regulate it.

Kauri logs unearthed from peat await sale.

Kauri logs unearthed from peat await sale. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

Dover Samuels said iwi from Te Hapua to Kaipara were fed up with what they saw as the plundering of a national treasure.

The one-time Minister of Maori Affairs, now head of Northland Regional Council's Maori Advisory Committee, said it was time to halt the trade while a rethink of the whole industry was carried out.

A listing on Ali Baba under the heading: 'Ancient KAURI Tabletop for dining or boardroom'.

A listing on Chinese-based website Ali Baba under the heading: 'Ancient kauri tabletop for dining or boardroom'. Photo: Ali Baba

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Mr Samuels said the advisory Committee had been consulting iwi in recent months about policy affecting their interests and the consistent message was that they wanted the industry controlled, in part because of the damage it's doing to wetlands and lakes.

"Many of the whanau and hapu where these taonga lie are very concerned about the exploitation of what they say, and what they see as a New Zealand taonga, said Mr Samuels. "Not just Maori, but New Zealand, taonga."

Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy yesterday defended the regulation of the swamp kauri industry, saying MPI staff kept a close watch on what was going out of the country.

The MPI website says swamp kauri can be exported as manufactured or finished products, but not as logs.

But some companies have exported logs legally by carving the surface and exporting them as finished products, with MPI approval.

Mr Guy said the trade was good for the country.

"They are finished products," he said.

"I have seen some photos where some fantastic-looking swamp logs have been carved and they're going to be an amazing feature for our country in an international country that they're destined for.

"We manage it very, very closely."

Fiona Furrell, who heads the Northland Environmental Protection Society, scoffs at the idea that the carvings represent New Zealand.

"The first one we saw an MPI photo of, we call it the Casper log, because it looks more like Casper the friendly ghost than any sort of Maori or authentic carving.

Dover Samuels

Dover Samuels Photo: Parliament

"It's just this big log with weird markings and paint all over it and what looks like a big smiley face. "

Mr Samuels said tangata whenua were not impressed with MPI's rationale for sanctioning the logs as carvings.

"I mean, how naive can you be when you say you've applied some sort of artificial tiki to the log, or an artificial carving to the log, and say that passes the requirements of the legislation? I mean, that's absolutely ridiculous."

Ms Furrell said if Mr Guy thought the swamp kauri trade was good for the country he should head north and inspect environmental damage caused by the mining.

"Drained lakes, drained wetlands, completely destroyed natural environment that is protected."

The Northland Environmental Protection Society believes shipments of swamp kauri are slipping out of New Zealand undetected by MPI or Customs.

It says there's no shortage of overseas websites advertising kauri logs and timber for sale including China's biggest online commerce site, Ali Baba.

A kauri log for sale on Chinese-based website Ali Baba.

A kauri log for sale on Chinese-based website Ali Baba. Photo: Ali Baba

The society's researcher, John Allen, said photos appeared in June 2013 on the website of a New Zealand shipping company that transported five logs weighing up to 40 tonnes each from Auckland to a customer in Shanghai.

Dr Allen said the society referred the site to MPI and asked it, under the Official Information Act, to provide records of all its swamp kauri export certificates for 2013, but the shipment was not among them.

He said the society asked MPI and Customs to investigate but nothing has come of it.

Dr Allen said further analysis of the export application forms for the year revealed 23 percent were for unfinished kauri slabs and offcuts, which he said were illegal; 30 percent had incomplete buyer details, some giving only a first name and phone number; and more than 10 percent lacked shipping destinations, all details which are legally required.

Mr Samuels said these were all clear signs it's an industry that needs reining in.

At a time when standing kauri forests are being killed by a fungal disease, he said, it was even more imperative to conserve the ancient trees that lay underground.

"Right now our kauri forests are at risk, and we [Northland Regional Council] are trying to put together some policies that will ensure these trees are still standing for generation to come."

Mr Samuels said there should be a moratorium immediately on swamp kauri mining, pending a full review of its economic and environmental impacts.

Northland MP Winston Peters told Morning Report that the practices were creating environmental despoilation.