The Government will this week announce next steps in dealing with forestry slash after it contributed so extensively to the damage on the East Coast during Cyclone Gabrielle

In coming days, ministers will announce an independent review that will investigate how best to deal with forestry slash as the East Coast moves into the recovery stage following Cyclone Gabrielle.

The findings of the review are expected to include recommendations for how to ensure slash doesn’t cause such widespread land damage in any future severe weather events.

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Slash, the waste product and debris from commercial forestry, isn’t a new factor in the destruction of road networks, farmland, homes, and businesses when flooding hits.

For years now, East Coast communities have been asking for bigger penalties and prosecutions for forestry companies, to little avail.

Newsroom understands the Government is just days away from commissioning a review, which could include harsher penalties and prosecutions for forestry companies – although a range of solutions are expected to be considered.

The Government isn’t alone in wanting the problem fixed.

National Party leader Christopher Luxon said he wanted a bi-partisan approach to the issue during his response to the Prime Minister’s statement on Tuesday.

Luxon specifically noted there was a need to “revisit penalties and prosecutions on forestry”.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has already said there are tough decisions to be made about which road networks will not be rebuilt because of where they are and the number of times they’ve already had to be fixed.

It’s the same with housing, which Hipkins says requires a serious conversation about how to prevent people from building in certain areas in the future based on what is known about severe weather events and their impacts. 

Newsroom understands the forestry work will be announced this week to get the ball rolling as the Government turns its attention to decisions around the rebuild of roads and houses.

Decisions around slash will be considered alongside determinations around where is no longer safe to build.

It comes as Hipkins finalised members of the new Extreme Weather Recovery Committee to be chaired by Minister for Cyclone Recovery, Grant Robertson.

There will be lead ministers for each region affected by the cyclone; Northland’s Kelvin Davis, Auckland/Coromandel’s Michael Wood, Waikato’s Nanaia Mahuta, Tairāwhiti/Bay of Plenty’s Kiri Allan, Hawkes Bay’s Stuart Nash and Tararua and Wairarapa’s Kieran McAnulty.

Also making up the committee will be Infrastructure and Housing Minister Megan Woods, Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni, Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson and Associate Agriculture Minister Meka Whaitiri.

In addition, a taskforce has been set up, led by Sir Brian Roche, that will include local representatives and business voices to feed into and report back to the committee about what is needed on the ground.

The taskforce has been designed in a similar way to the one created in the aftermath of the 2010/11 Queensland floods, which later transitioned into the Queensland Reconstruction Authority – a long-term group responsible for dealing with event-specific recovery plans across the state.

Robertson told Newsroom it wasn’t guaranteed the Government would replicate the reconstruction authority but based on the focus Queensland put on local leadership with its taskforce, he said a good starting point was to model off that.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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