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Sandra Lee Speech - Wildlife Penalties Bill

Hon Sandra Lee
Minister of Conservation
Report back from Select Committee Speech Notes
Wednesday 2 August 2000

Mr Speaker

I am pleased to be able to welcome the return of this Bill to the House this week, during Conservation Week, which has as its theme the enjoyment of parks. This Bill will help secure the future of the wildlife species that feature in most of the parks throughout New Zealand.

My Government colleague Jill Pettis introduced this Bill in December 1998—as a Member's Bill—to substantially increase penalties that can be imposed for offences against wildlife. While it remains a Member's Bill, the Government fully supports its passage.

I support the Bill as reported back from the Local Government and Environment select committee. I consider that raising penalties is totally justified. The current maximum penalties in the Wildlife Act are too low – for example, $1500 for disturbing the nest of a kakapo, or a $1500 fine for dealing in tuatara. This sum is not much of a deterrent if you can sell a tuatara for several thousand dollars on the black market to overseas clients.

The impact of human predation on some of our species can be devastating. Take kakapo for example. There are only 62 of these endearing native parrots left in the wild in New Zealand and indeed on the planet, so robbing nests is not a trivial issue. Last year, only six chicks were born. Disturb a single nest, and you have seriously compromised this species' future chances for survival. Disturb a few, and we could lose the kakapo forever. Clearly, a $1500 fine for disturbing a kakapo has been totally inadequate.
We have these relatively low penalties because the current Wildlife Act is a child of the 1950s when the equivalent of one dollar would buy a five kilogram lump of butter. Most of the penalties have not been re-adjusted since 1983, although the Fisheries Act 1996 increased the penalties for offences against marine wildlife way above the rest, and these now stand out against the others.

More changes have occurred. These days we have a new awareness, a new language - of biodiversity, species fragility, and environmental issues - and the concept of environmental offending.
This Bill pulls the Wildlife Act into the 21st century and sends the right signals to deter offenders and to underline just how seriously we take the maintenance of our national heritage.

During the next 18 months, the Department of Conservation will be reviewing penalties and offences in all the legislation that it administers.
DOC has asked the select committee on this Bill to ensure that the wildlife penalties are raised within the policy framework developed for this wider review.
I am confident that increasing these penalties now will not create inconsistencies down the track when the wider review is completed.

The Bill proposes a sensible three-tier regime of penalties, with penalties increasing for offences against
 absolutely protected wildlife.
 partially protected wildlife; and,
 game;

This Bill replaces the old and less appropriate ‘per day’ fines with ‘per head’ fines.
It also increases penalties to a maximum fine of $100,000 for serious offences against absolutely protected wildlife—crimes like hunting, killing, robbing the nest, or exporting kiwi or native gecko. For the first time, the Bill introduces imprisonment as an alternative to a fine; a prison sentence of up to 6 months can now be imposed for serious offences. Imprisonment is available for other serious environmental offending, and I consider it justifiable in relation to wildlife too. I support the select committee’s inclusion of a clause providing for community service whether the offence is punishable by imprisonment or not. It is important that offenders be aware of the dire consequences of their disrespect for wildlife.
It is not widely known that the Department of Conservation currently runs a diversion scheme based on the police one. Provided the extent to which DOC is called on to administer community sentencing does not markedly increase, there should be no significant resourcing issues to address, in my view.
The offence of liberating wildlife also comes under the class of serious offences because it can have devastating consequences on native species.
The recent spate of liberations of rainbow lorikeet in Auckland means increased competition for nectar-eaters like tui and hihi, and there is the threat of the lorikeets getting into Tiritiri Matangi and Little Barrier island, where 80% of the threatened hihi population survives. The higher maximum penalty is totally apt for this kind of offence.

For offences of lesser seriousness, against partially protected wildlife, the new second tier of penalties provides for a maximum fine of $10,000. These types of offences would relate to – for example - killing or exporting partially protected wildlife such as a harrier hawk, or robbing their nests.

And there is now a third tier of penalties –attracting a maximum $5,000 fine- for offences against game, and for infringements such as breaching a permit to take wildlife.
I consider it logical that penalties for game offences be lower than offences against protected wildlife, because game is a sustainably-managed resource, whereas protected species are managed for survival and not for sport.
I know that the New Zealand Fish & Game Council has spoken out against this approach. But I would point out that the Bill increases the old game penalties by a factor of ten, which is surely a good outcome for the hunters of New Zealand, and a good deterrent to would-be poachers.
I support maintaining a difference between game penalties and wildlife penalties, to underline the difference between management for sustainability and management for conservation. There is a separate penalty for the offence of obstructing a ranger at the lower level of $5,000, but an alternative maximum 3-month term of imprisonment is also now provided for.
This is needed because the Department of Conservation’s unarmed rangers can come across offenders in remote forests, with no backup support. It is important to send a strong message to offenders that they cannot just pull their balaclavas down over their faces so they can’t be identified, and walk away into the forest toting their guns, or worse than this, threaten violence against those in authority, without facing the possibility of incarceration.

The Bill provides for double fines for corporate offenders as opposed to individuals, and I fully support that proposition. This is done because corporate bodies are often motivated by commercial gain and have resources at their disposal to mount large scale poaching operations which could be extremely destructive. I note that the fines for a group of individuals acting together but not being a corporation may still collectively incur higher fines than a single corporation would.
A provision relating to directors’ liability is also in the Bill, similar to that in the Resource Management Act, to enable directors to be held liable for the actions of a body corporate, except in certain narrowly-specified circumstances.

This Bill also contains powers of search and seizure under the Customs and Excise Act 1996. This means that if officers believe that specific wildlife is going to be exported, they can use those powers to prevent the export, as if the wildlife were “prohibited goods” under that Act.
The export of wildlife is already prohibited under the Wildlife Act, but this provision under the Customs & Excise Act ensures that the relevant powers are there for enforcement to be effective, and brings it into line with the Trade In Endangered Species Act, where only some of our species are listed. Again, I support this provision. It would have been included in the wider review of offences and penalties being undertaken by the Department of Conservation, but it is urgently needed, and lies suitably within the scope of this Bill.
As Minister of Conservation, I commend this Bill to the House.


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