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.


Comments (7)

by Murray Grimwood on July 26, 2016
Murray Grimwood

Alex, you are dealing with an oxymoron when you say 'there's money in Conservation.....tourism...'.

It's what the tourists did to 'earn' the ticket - almost always a lifestyle drawing down resources, polluting and impacting. Particularly those who fly in/out fossil-fuelledly.

So in the big picture, we'd be better off without the money being both earned and spent.

So skewed has it become, that DoC helicopters coal into it's huts so it can 'make money'. This is - in real terms, physics terms - an arrant nonsense.

But your basic plea is correct; we need to conserve and we need to do so several orders of magnitude more that we are doing. We also need to understand that if you tax something - an oil company or a car-dealer, say - that is doing the impacting, you're actually better off outlawing the taxed activity than spending the tax dollar conserving - it'll always not be enough, obviously..

No need to conserve if you're not threatening!

by Antoine on July 28, 2016

I would love to vote for a (non-Commie) political party that made this their cornerstone policy.


by Rich on July 28, 2016

Interesting how DoC spends its money.

I just got back from a walk in Wales - minimal waymarking, just enough (beautifully done, mind) path reinforcement to stop erosion - the onus is on the walker to select and follow a route. A lot of DoC's routes are more like theme park rides in comparison - and it doesn't make them safer, because it's just encouraging people into the bush without learning skills or taking the right equipment (like a map, compass and warm clothing - if you need your hut heated, then you don't have enough clothing if you don't make it to the hut?).

by MikeM on July 31, 2016

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.

I'm not sure where to dig, but is even that $430.8 million all spent on environmental protection? DOC has two giant responsibilities which it's carried since the merging of multiple conflicting agencies in 1987 -- the other being managing recreation on public land.  Based on DOC's annual reports my understanding is that a much smaller portion of this is actually spent in DOC's Natural Heritage line.  (Not that I think recreational spending is a bad or wasteful thing --- it's just another outcome that was handled by different agencies pre-1987, and DOC now happens to be the agency charged with administering it.) For example, in the 2015 Annual Report, DOC spent around $161m on Natural Heritage (that's saving birds and stuff), and $137m on Recreational Opportunities (tracks, huts, visitor centres)... and a bunch on other stuff like overheads and a few other smaller responsibilities.  I can't make it add up to $430m on a whim, but it probably does if I were to read the numbers more completely.  I'd be surprised, though, if anything resembling natural heritage would add to $430m.  To me it sounds like, sadly, it's still a vast overstatement of the amount we actually spend on this stuff.  Maybe it's half of that if we're lucky.
by Charlie on July 31, 2016

As a blue-green I am really pleased that there is now some real commitment by the government to make progress in this area. It's certainly overdue.

Where I disagree with Alex's view is in increasing funding to DoC - which is just more of the same in my view. They've done a stalwart job for years but their current methodology isn't going to deliver the goods demanded by this policy, no matter how much money we throw at it.

We need a new focus, a new plan, new methods and we have to engage the public widely in this initiative if we are going to make significant progress.


by MikeM on July 31, 2016

Hi Charlie.  Out of interest, why do you believe DOC's incompatible with delivering this?  As far as I can tell, DOC delivers what it's mandated to deliver within the funding constraints that are imposed on it and the general instructions given from above... which is perhaps why it now spends such significant effort fundraising from corporate partners and rallying volunteers to deliver its core business for which it's not reliably funded.

If a new entity is needed, is it really necessary, in your view, for it to be a PPP as opposed to a government agency, or a section of DOC with all its networks of existing (remaining) expertise to call upon?  If it's funded appropriately, why would it succeed where DOC would supposedly fail?

by Murray Grimwood on August 01, 2016
Murray Grimwood

Ah, we're starting to home in on what 'Charlie' is; a Nat tout.

There is no such thing as 'Blue Green' - the same way you can't solve depletion via efficiencies, and you can't be a little bit pregnant.

But only the Nat's claim the greenwash of 'blue-green'. The irony is that even the Greens - in current form - are a mile away from genuine sustainability (which is the only way 'conservation' holds any kind of line long term).They've gone socialist - housing (more) for the 'poor'. That's growth, starting from an overshot position.

Corporate partners usually need to greenwash their image, while their impact in the real world is compounding the need for conservation; the best thing they could do in real terms is cease their activity (which in almost every case will be fossil-fuel based and therefore doomed to cease anyway).

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