The Government announcement of a Predator Free goal for New Zealand by 2050 sounds good. But the budget for this is woefully inadequate, and comes on top of years of cost cutting - some say the deliberate, reckless weakening - of the Department of Conservation. We need to do more.
One per cent please.
How much does it take to run our country? Take a look at a website page from the Treasury titled 'Total Crown Expenses by functional classification', and you'll see government spent $92.170 billion in the 2014 financial year.
The big ticket items were $27.266 billion on social security. Fair enough – we have to pay pensions, and look after the vulnerable. Next was $14.344 billion on health. Also OK – you gotta take care of the crook fullas. Closely followed by $13.064 billion on education. Again fair enough – we must educate our kids, and pay the teachers. So far, so logical.
But scroll down to the bottom of the list, and you find $579 million spent on an un-identified 'other', and below that, the very smallest single line item, $538 million spent on environmental protection. Do some more digging, and you'll find the budget for the Department of Conservation accounted for $430.8 million of that environmental protection spend.
That's 0.44 % of the total.
Now consider the 100% PURE campaign. It's selling New Zealand's unique proposition to the world of international tourism. You don't see pictures of hospitals, schools, suburbs, or open cast mines in the billboards. You see stunning images of our natural world – almost all taken within the conservation estate.
New Zealand has a very high level of land that is held as conservation estate – around 30% of our total land area. Or put another way, about 8 million hectares of native forests and islands and beaches and rivers and lakes and alpine land. Stunning stuff. Plenty of scope for those 100% PURE photographers. And plenty of space to tuck away a tourist or two.
There's money in them green spaces too. Tourism earned $10.3 billion in the year ending March 2014 – or 15.3% of our foreign exchange earnings. In total, the tourism expenditure in that year was $23.8 billion. An overwhelming majority of those visitors were enticed by the splendours of our natural environment. Just like they saw in the 100% PURE posters and billboards. They came to experience that for real. Good on them.
So why then do we spend so little on caring for our greatest asset?
How about a new campaign to sit beside 100% PURE? We could call it the ONE PER CENT, PLEASE initiative. That's not asking for much – just one per cent of our annual spend on looking after the forests, the rivers, the mountains, and those who look after them in turn.
But no. In the past few years, we have seen budget cuts for the Department of Conservation, and more than 150 jobs lost. Good people, doing good work. Now less of them must do it all with less resources. Why can't we set aside just one per cent of government spend for this important entity?
No-one who sets budget figures could refuse that, surely? It all makes good sense. It's the ultimate in business and brand sustainability. It would also help future generations of our own citizens.
Just ONE PER CENT, PLEASE. Ironic, isn't it, to think this level of investment would be more that double what is currently being done. Puts things a bit into perspective.