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Sandra Lee Address And Reply Debate Speech

Hon Sandra Lee
Minister of Conservation

Conservation Minister's Speech

Parliament Buildings

Hon. SANDRA LEE (Minister of Conservation): In my opening may I please ask the time of the House to acknowledge a staff member of mine who passed away last week after a short illness.

Her name was Agnes McGhee, Aggie McGee as we called her, and she will be very deeply missed by all the staff, both in my ministerial office and in the Department of Conservation.

Aggie McGhee came to Parliament to assist me in my work as Minister of Conservation.

She was a fighting Máori woman and a dedicated conservationist as she stood at her post.

Parliament is not a place for the faint-hearted. She never flinched once. And, in the true tradition of her Ngati Porou people she made a wonderful contribution to this House.

And at her tangi the comment was made that although she was a fighter she had that rare gift of wrapping her battles and her beliefs and her advocacy for them in love.

Those are lessons that every one of us in this House could take from Aggie.

I am proud to mark the achievements of the Labour-Alliance coalition Government during the last 14 months, and to look forward to a future that the years will bring.

I have listened carefully to the debate from Opposition members and have to say to them that I really do believe that they will have to lift their game.
Essentially, in my experience, the people of New Zealand, when travelling around this country, are happy with the work the Labour-Alliance coalition Government is carrying out.

For me, probably the greatest feeling of wellbeing that New Zealanders express is that the element of fear that used to exist has disappeared.
Elderly people in New Zealand were very worried not long ago about the future of their superannuation.

Young people in tertiary education wondered whether they would ever be able to work their degrees in employment in New Zealand.

The unwell were very concerned about whether they would ever be able to access much-needed medical services.

Young families were desperate, and knew that codes of social responsibility in one's letterboxes would never be enough.
The Opposition is entitled to be critical, and that is its job. But it has been ironic in the last 14 months that its greatest criticism of this Government is that we kept the very promises that we campaigned on before we came into this House.

In my own portfolio area of conservation, this Government, in an unprecedented manner, committed over $187 million to a national biodiversity plan. That was a vital commitment.

Hon. Dr Nick Smith: Who wrote it?

Hon. SANDRA LEE: The former Minister asked who wrote the strategy.
National contributed; there is no doubt about it. The man who has just been dumped down the ranks by Mrs Shipley did contribute to the strategy, but ``it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that zing'', and they never had the money, so it never happened.

This Government put its money where its mouth was. That former Minister praised us for doing so, and $187 million was committed to conservation. Good things are happening in that area, already.

We made a commitment to end the logging of our important West Coast indigenous forests. They are an important part of New Zealand's remaining lowland forest cover, and they now stand protected as a direct result of this Government's actions.

This Government made a commitment from the biodiversity funding for the transfer of kiwi to five new kiwi sanctuaries, funded by $10 million for kiwi protection, allocated from the biodiversity strategy. What an irony it would be if our ultimate icon species had been lost from the landscape of mainland New Zealand.

Work has started on the biggest ever rodent eradication programme undertaken by New Zealand to clear Campbell Island of its last remaining animal pests, Norway rats, at a cost of $2.7 million over 4 years, so Department of Conservation can return several rare species to the island.

Extensive pest control programmes in Department of Conservation's conservancies are important. For example, in the Nelson-Marlborough conservancy, which has the largest diversity of natural values of all 13 conservancies, an extra $630,000 is going this year towards pest control, including programmes against possums, weeds, pests, and freshwater fish.

At last, the start of a long-awaited review of the Marine Reserves Act is under way as a result of the biodiversity plan. It has committed the Labour-Alliance coalition to setting a goal of protecting 10 percent of our marine environment by the year 2010. Up until now, only 1 percent of our territorial sea was under some form of protection compared with over 30 percent of our land mass. That is an incredibly important issue, as the former Minister well knows, because, despite the desire and aspirations of large numbers of New Zealanders from all walks of life, to have effective marine protection the existing legislation simply was not effective. It pitted New Zealander against New Zealander, and the review was overdue. The former Government had a decade to do it. This Government is doing it.

Of course, we have created the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, a new concept of multi-use marine parks, in my home territory, incorporating the sea bed and a network of conservation lands around the coast of the Hauraki Gulf and the Coromandel, which are very important environmental areas where some of our most endangered species on those islands out there are making their last stand for survival.

It is a joy to look at the staff from the Department of Conservation as they work through those programmes, because it takes a lot of work and commitment to be on these islands and in those special places fighting on the front line.

I have had the pleasure of going to Chalky Island, down in Fiordland, and watched the stoat eradication programme being carried out by an amazing young man from the Department of Conservation who has dedicated his time and energy towards achieving that.

On Pitt Island, we have a young woman living alone in a caravan in the middle of the bush, determined to ensure that we have a pest-proof fence established around one of the last remaining stands of that indigenous forest cover.

I was recently on the Chatham Islands, where I had the privilege of meeting a Department of Conservation staff member who has been involved in restoring the tiny remnant of oystercatchers that live there against the odds. In a video, in the course of just one day, everything from cows and sheep to possums and cats were at the last of these very important birds, and the commitment and dedication and, can I say, loneliness of the job does not deter them from the work that must be done. I think it is only appropriate, therefore, that this Government's commitment to fund their work is recognised in this House by everybody.

I continue 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. I hope it does not become again a mere cliché.

The Labour-Alliance coalition has delivered to New Zealand a stable Government that has been constructive and cooperative, and that has kept its agreements.
As we bed in our manifesto commitments from the last election, the coalition is being faced with a new challenge to now kick on from the policy base that we have established.

There has been no doubt about the Department of Conservation's reaction to the significant injection of money that came on-stream last July to implement year one.

The department's 13 conservancies were completely energised by the prospect of addressing issues that they had held concern about for years and years and years. They now know that they have the resources to get on with the job that must be done in order to protect those things that make our nation unique.

I have listened to Opposition members in this debate berate this Government.
What are we guilty of? We are guilty of raising living standards.
Yes, we increased the minimum wage.

Yes, we have replaced the draconian Employment Contracts Act.
Yes, the Alliance kept its promise to superannuitants in this country by increasing their income by $20 a week.

We have abolished market rentals, and the former Minister of Housing knows the impact on people of market rentals in my own electorate and other areas.
Jim Anderton has kept his promise on the jobs machine. We have more jobs now than have been available for ordinary New Zealanders, with real, decent wages to back them up than we have had in 12 years.

In conclusion, I want to talk to the Opposition on the matter of Waitangi. A politician who cannot change his or her mind does not have one. This Government does. We are committed to listening to the people. It was entirely appropriate that the Hon. Tariana Turia and the Minister of Maori Affairs went to Waitangi to hear what leading Maori elders had to say. Unlike the former Government, we are not so entrenched that we will not listen to the will of the people or the advice of elders. If Opposition members have a problem with that, then they will be a long time on the Opposition benches.


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