The vision unfolds
In 1975, partly to fulfil the vision he shared with the Northern Federation of Ma¯ori Trusts and Incorporations [NORFED], Keith Hunt established Northern Pulp Ltd [NPL], which then supported a huge planting programme on NORFED lands, from Te Hapua to Mitimiti. This was followed in the mid-1980s with the building of the NPL triboard mill at the northern end of Kaitaia; by 1987 it was in production.
In that same year, Pe¯tia Welsh, the architect of NORFED, asked my employers [Parengarenga Incorporation] to let me work with him, which they did. The first thing Pe¯tia made clear to me was that, because the NORFED forests were not yet ready for production, the JNL mill was totally dependent on timber from the Aupo¯uri State forest, which was then being run by the Forest Service. The fates of the mill, Aupo¯uri forest and the NORFED forests, he explained, were intrinsically linked.
He also explained that, while the plans of NORFED and NPL had unfolded well with the planting of our forests and the commissioning of the mill, we were seeing the end of what he called the “post-war era of prosperity” and hard times lay ahead for us all. I had no idea what he meant but was soon to find out.
Characterised by government spending to stimulate and maintain economic growth, strong union protection of workers’ rights and artificially low costs of living, the post-war era had survived the 1960s’ counterculture and the 1970s’ oil shocks. But it was now being hit by an economic neoliberalism in which the market had become God, and the ‘trickle-down’ theory held sway.
What had started in Britain with Thatcherism emerged in New Zealand as Rogernomics, named after then Minister of Finance Roger Douglas. Under Pe¯tia’s tutelage, I learned and understood that, while the policies of Rogernomics were staged, their impact was immediate.
The first stage was corporatisation, in which state industries were broken up and replaced by commercial corporates and non-commercial departments. In 1987 the Forest Service was replaced by the Department of Conservation, which took over management of native forests, and Forest Corp, which took over exotic forest commercial logging operations. Overnight more than 130 local households lost their main source of income.
The second stage was privatisation. In 1990, all of Forest Corp’s logging operations and some of the lands were sold or leased as Crown Forest licences to private companies. That included Aupo¯uri Forest, which was sold in December 1990 to a Japanese company, now known as Juken New Zealand.
At the same time that the government was preparing to privatise its logging operations, news broke that the entire Equiticorp Group, including the NPL mill, had been placed into statutory management.
By 1991 the mill had also been sold to JNL, and the NORFED vision was unravelling.
Next week I will write more about NORFED’s response to the forest and mill sales.
"What had started in Britain with Thatcherism emerged in New Zealand as Rogernomics, named after then Minister of Finance Roger Douglas."