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Sandra Lee Speech To Forest And Bird

11am Sunday 19 November 2000 Hon Sandra Lee Speech Notes

Masonic Centre, cnr Charles & Seymour Streets, Blenheim

Keynote Speech To Royal Forest And Bird Protection Society Of NZ Annual General Meeting


Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. I appreciate the constructive role Forest and Bird has played and continues to play in the conservation movement of New Zealand. So much so that I could not resist poaching your conservation director Kevin Smith, who has taken on the important role of my senior conservation adviser.

For me, it has been a unique journey from being an ordinary Forest and Bird member, and later an executive member, to becoming Minister of Conservation. I am as proud of my conservation roots as I am proud of my tangata whenua roots. The inter- weaving and overlapping of these two components of my life now assist me in my roles as both Minister of Conservation and Associate Minister of Maori Affairs. Tremendous opportunities exist in Treaty settlements to advance conservation and for weaving the role of Maori as kaitiaki into conservation working together with DOC, Forest and Bird and others.

In my maiden speech back in 1994, I observed that as a society we had failed to heed the wise words of Mahatma Ghandi when he said " nature can take care of the needs of people, but can't take care of the greeds of people…". That is an ethical approach that underpins my beliefs as a Maori and as an environmentalist.

I want now to pay tribute to Forest and Bird – your contribution to conservation in New Zealand is without parallel. Nationally and locally, you so often lead the way on conservation. You are an organisation of people, tens of thousands of them, all of whom contribute to achieving your inspiring constitutional goals. I wish to pay tribute today to a few – not quite randomly selected – Forest and Bird people who have made a difference:
 Keith Chapple—for his leadership of Forest and Bird and for his part in helping restore some of the flows back to the mighty but decapitated Whanganui River;

 Bill Gilbertson and Eugenie Sage for their forthright and well-researched advocacy for the protection of the West Coast's world class rainforests.

 Sue Maturin for her success, so well profiled in your recent magazine, in protecting forests on Vanuatu with the support and involvement of the local people. What Sue has achieved here is a model for conservation in the South Pacific and I will be drawing attention to the Vatthe project on my forthcoming trip to the South Pacific which includes a Vanuatu stopover.
But Forest and Bird more than any other national conservation group I know is a grass roots organisation. And Forest and Bird has many, many conservation heroes who have been at work for years nurturing nature and safeguarding our environment.

People like Stan Butcher, who was advocating for tough 'biosecurity' long before the word was even coined; Jan Riddick – the environmental conscience of Auckland; Ann Fenn –who has given me valuable conservation advice from Auckland for years; and here in Marlborough Margaret Peace speaking out for conservation at times when many would have preferred her to be silent.

The Labour-Alliance coalition government is summing up its first year in Government using a phrase that has been launched this weekend: Keeping our word. We were voted into office last year because New Zealanders wanted a new set of priorities and values from their Government, and we have taken heed of that. The Labour and Alliance conservation policies were well publicised before the last election.

People who voted for change were aware they also voted in effect to save the publicly owned West Coast indigenous forests menaced by logging. My personal commitment to the protection of these forests of my beloved West Coast goes back a long way as many of you know. I recall heading to Wellington years ago in a deputation that included David Bellamy and Forest and Bird's Mark Bellingham to lobby for these forests. The West Coast is my turangawaewae, my ancestors were born there. As I said in the House on the passage of the legislation, I am delighted these forests will be preserved. Why? Because they are an important part of New Zealand's remaining lowland forests that now stand at less than seven percent of our original rainforests and because they are far more valuable for conservation, recreation and tourism than they would ever be as a source of wood.

We kept our word in that case by passing the Forests—West Coast Accord—Act last month to end logging of Crown-managed forests under the West Coast Accord. The Government also chose to pay out an adjustment package of $120m (actually about $135m if you include GST) to the West Coast communities.

The voters also supported the Department of Conservation receiving a funding boost so that it could not only perform its core functions but also embark on the critical task of halting and reversing the loss of our biodiversity—our most pervasive environmental problem. I gave you my personal commitment to pursue that funding last year when I spoke at the election forum at your AGM.

We kept our word, launching in March a New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy that had been sidelined by the previous administration, and was strengthened after the election to take account of Labour-Alliance coalition policies.


In the June Budget, we announced $187m of new money had been allocated over five years to implement the Biodiversity Strategy. This is a tremendous boost, but let me be honest: to restore biodiversity to the extent you would all desire will require at some time in the future an even greater commitment. For now, we have a huge challenge in ensuring the extra funding for conservation delivers healthier forests, marine ecosystems alive with life, fewer weeds and pests and that it enhances the prospects for our precious threatened species.

A significant part of that money, $57m, was for animal pest and weed control over the funding period—a 150-percent increase in invasive weed control and enhanced control of browsing pests including possums, stoats, ferrets, goats and deer. I assure you it will be money well spent.

We have allocated nearly $2.7m over the next four years for New Zealand's most ambitious rodent eradication programme: clearing Campbell Island of its last remaining animal pest, the Norway rat, so that it can again become a fit habitat for its many unique species such as the Campbell Island teal and the Campbell Island snipe. An advance party of DOC staff visited Campbell Island last month to get the ball rolling on that project. Kevin Smith was one of the VIPs on the trip on the frigate Te Mana. He tells me he was impressed by the cooperation between DOC and the Navy, and by the incredibly focussed approach of the Southland conservancy of DOC to ridding our world heritage sub Antarctic islands of their burden of alien species.

A challenge for the future will be eradicating pigs from the main Auckland Island. I too have witnessed first hand what is being achieved in the south on island restoration when I had a wonderful visit to Chalky Island on the Fiordland coast to see the department's stoat eradication programme. Island conservation is one of my key priorities and exciting opportunities await, as our scientists, conservation managers and conservation field workers lead the world in island restoration. Conservation volunteers from Forest and Bird and the wider community help to extend what they can achieve in island protection.

The Biodiversity Strategy funding also included a $37m increase in the funds available to protect and maintain biodiversity on private land through the Nature Heritage Fund, Nga Whenua Rahui and the Queen Elizabeth II National Trust, as well as establishing a new fund for ongoing management. Forest and Bird is only too aware, because you publicised your objection to it, that the last administration raided much of the money for the $10.9m Lords River SILNA forests settlement from the next three years allocation for the Nature Heritage Fund and Nga Whenua Rahui.

We are—of course—committed to restoring the funding of these two schemes with some of the Biodiversity Strategy funding. Meanwhile we introduced legislation last month to implement the Lords River settlement, protecting some 3515 hectares of spectacular indigenous forest on Stewart Island. The Bill enshrining the settlement in law was sent to the Maori Affairs select committee for consideration.

You may recall that the Budget funding to implement the Biodiversity Strategy also included an additional $10m to enhance the Kiwi Recovery programme by funding five new kiwi sanctuaries – a concept developed and championed by Forest and Bird. Work is generally at an advanced stage at the sites in the western North Island, at Haast, Okarito, Coromandel and in Northland.

At the Bream Head scenic reserve in Northland, the first transfer into any of the five new sanctuaries took place early last month when five North Island brown Kiwi were accompanied to the site from Motuora Island by Ngati Wai kaumatua and kuia. It is our active partnerships with you—Forest and Bird—and the Kiwi Recovery programme's sponsors, the Bank of New Zealand, that are helping to ensure that a number of key kiwi populations are successfully rebuilt on the mainland.

I should also mention the $11.5m extra allocated in the Biodiversity Strategy funding to increase the number of marine reserves around New Zealand during the next five years, and provide for their management. Under the Strategy we are committed to ensuring protection for 10-percent of our marine environment by 2010. It is no secret that I was not happy at the previous administration's establishment of only 13-marine reserves in the nine long years they were in office.

The six lodged applications currently awaiting ministerial approval relate to
 Paterson Inlet;
 Akaroa Harbour;
 Parininihi (North Taranaki);
 Kaikoura;
 Nugget Point; and
 Glenduan to Ataata Point (North Nelson).

A seventh application for Te Matuku Bay, Waiheke Island, is at the stage of being reported on by the Director-General before recommendations are forwarded to me for my consideration. As a Waiheke Islander myself, I naturally enough have a keen interest in this application.

An eighth marine reserve application, for the Wellington South Coast, was publicly notified only last month.

Forest and Bird is the applicant for four of these proposed reserves. I am aware that some of the proposals have been waiting for a decision for a considerable length of time. Advancing these applications is a priority but some difficult issues still need to be worked through.

The whole country owes Forest and Bird a debt for your essential contribution to marine conservation, rom branch promotions of individual marine reserves to Barry Weeber's work highlighting the plight of marine mammals and seabirds.

No one can be pleased that such a small proportion of New Zealand's territorial sea is protected in marine reserves. It is not good enough that less than four percent of our territorial sea is under some form of protection compared with about 30-percent of our land mass.

I could be charitable and attribute part of the blame to the Marine Reserves Act 1971's narrow and old-fashioned focus on scientific study, rather than the more modern focus on environmental protection that is needed. The old Act is clearly in need of the review I announced last month, to modernise its provisions to meet 21st century needs.

The Biodiversity Strategy has made it clear that marine reserves could serve as important environmental protection tools, but not under the existing legislative framework. Any new legislation will also need to take into account other more recent forms of marine protection available through the Resource Management Act and the Fisheries Act. Public submissions on the review of the Marine Reserves Act close on 22 December, and I urge you to make representations.

I should also note that New Zealand's protected area network was also enhanced this year by several government initiatives.

The Hauraki Gulf Marine Park was established as a new concept in multi-use marine parks, incorporating seawater, the seabed and a network of conservation lands around the coast of the Hauraki Gulf and Coromandel. The Hauraki Gulf Forum was also established to facilitate integration of existing environmental management of the Gulf and its catchments, ultimately protecting the vitality of the Marine Park itself.

And a 14th National Park may be in the offing, following a recommendation earlier this year by the New Zealand Conservation Authority that one be created on Rakiura/Stewart Island. I will be visiting the island next month to meet the local people and iwi to get their views first hand on the proposal.

I have spent time recalling a selection of Labour-Alliance coalition 'conservation milestones' during the past year as a backdrop to a point I now wish to make.

I want to challenge a perception that I know exists in some quarters of the conservation movement that there is a political consensus in support of most of the government's conservation policies, apart from say halting the logging of the West Coast indigenous forests. Most of the opposition parties have sent clear signals that this is not so. I have found the Greens to be very helpful on conservation issues—and other matters—although recently they made it clear that the Labour-Alliance coalition can no longer expect their support on critical 'confidence' votes.

Let me leave you in no doubt that I intend to be a totally different Minister of Conservation than my predecessor. I will be expecting my Department to be a professional champion for conservation.

I am aware there is also a perception in some quarters that under the previous administration, DOC was forced into the role of an apologist for conservation, never quite sure whether it had political support for essential measures needed to advance the protection of unique native species. DOC can now be assured it has that support from their Minister and most encouragingly from the Prime Minister, Helen Clark, a former Minister of Conservation

I will be continuing to give priority to the conservation of indigenous species, first and foremost. 'Turning the tide' remains a clarion call to unceasing efforts to reverse the decline of our indigenous biodiversity. It will never become a mere cliché as long as I remain Minister of Conservation.

The Alliance and Labour have delivered to New Zealand a stable government that has been constructive and cooperative, and which has kept its commitments. Of course we have internal disagreements. If we didn’t, we wouldn't be in different parties. And we argue our respective policies as strongly as we can.

But as we bed in our manifesto commitments from the last election, the Labour-Alliance coalition is being faced with a new challenge, to now 'kick on' from the policy base that we have established.

I want to share with you today some of my thinking about the future role and work ahead for the Department of Conservation. Its biggest task will be the implementation of the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy over the initial five year period that began in July. There is no doubt about DOC's reaction to the significant injection of money that came on stream then to implement year one. I can't tell you just what a morale boost for DOC this extra funding has been. The Department's 13-conservancies were energised by the prospect of addressing issues they had held concerns about, sometimes for years.

The Department alone may never have all the resources to implement the Strategy, so it will be required to build good working partnerships with local authorities and with a range of non-government organisations from Forest and Bird to Federated Farmers, and—of course—most importantly, iwi. I am gratified that there has been a clear commitment from DOC, conservation boards, and allied non-government organisations to make the Biodiversity Strategy work.

One of the challenges arising from that basic commitment is to address how best to safeguard our endangered biodiversity on private land. DOC must play a critical role in encouraging private landowners to the point where they become enthusiastic advocates of nature on their land, and want to look after it.

New Zealanders have a general commitment to conservation, but DOC must make this a more informed commitment. We took the first steps in this year's Budget, through the funding of conservation awareness programs. We need to harness the technology of the internet to ensure everyone who wishes to find out how to restore a wetland, protect kereru from predators, or plant a forest can readily access the latest information on protection and restoration techniques on the web.
But we also need real people on the ground who can provide advice and assistance and this will be happening with the appointment of rural community advocates and an enhanced effort in urban conservation awareness.

The Department will also continue to play an important role in Resource Management Act processes working constructively with local authorities by helping to ensure the best ecological information is available to help support their decisions. DOC has a statutory role in the Resource Management arena as an advocate for conservation. Some right wing politicians would seek to axe this function, but to do so would often leave the fate of irreplaceable elements of our natural heritage to the vagaries of the marketplace.

DOC will continue to advocate for the conservation of indigenous habitats and their dependent native wildlife in Resource Management forums. Under the Labour Alliance coalition, DOC no longer faces political pressure from its Minister of Conservation to avoid getting involved in Resource Management Act processes where there are important plans and precedents and important issues at stake. DOC can not get involved in every resource consent issue, even if the community wishes them to, because of the significant costs that would be involved. But as we work through the Biowhat process, we will ensure that DOC's statutory advocacy work is complemented by a range of measures to assist and guide landowners in their role as guardians of the land and its natural treasures. Already, the government has increased funding for the Nature Heritage Fund, Nga Whenua Rahui and the QE II Trust to help them meet the many demands from landowners for their services.

New Zealand's rural and urban economies can develop to meet our needs without imperilling our natural heritage. I am looking forward to furthering the cooperative relationships DOC has forged with many landowners, iwi, community groups and local authorities as we work together to ensure nature flourishes in the countryside and in our towns and cities.

ENDS

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