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Sandra Lee - 2002 Sanderson Lecture

Hon. Sandra Lee
Saturday 22 June 2002 Speech Notes

The 2002 Sanderson Lecture to the annual meeting of the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand

Quality Hotel, 355 Willis St, Wellington [Please check against delivery]

Kia ora tatou katoa

Thank you for inviting me this evening.

I was privileged to receive your invitation to be the guest speaker for this year's keynote Sanderson Lecture.

I was also pleased to help present this year's Old Blue Awards a few minutes ago¡Xthey are amongst New Zealand's leading conservation awards.

And I want to thank you for your kind words when I announced my retirement from Parliament earlier this week.

I make the point that I have retired from Parliament and not from politics. I think I will be involved in politics for the rest of my life.

This is a good opportunity to reflect on the almost three years I have spent as the Minister of Conservation, and to look ahead to the challenges that face us all.

This lecture, of course, commemorates your founder, Captain Val Sanderson.

The eulogy at his funeral in 1945 was a stirring address by a Reverend McLevie of Roseneath in Wellington.

He reminded the mourners of the old saying: beware when men speak well of you.

Reverend McLevie observed that popularity in public life was often a sign of great weakness and lack of leadership, and led nowhere.

That is not a message that too many aspiring MPs would like to hear right now.

Reverend McLevie went on to say ¡§so when men and women like Captain Sanderson take up a stand for what is right and never flinch whatever the opposition and persecution it causes, we have leaders who are in good company¡¨.

"Sanderson", he said ¡§laboured for the preservation of the natural life of birds, forests, plants and flowers, so that they may be undisturbed and unspoilt by the hand of man.¡¨

Your founder was a man I think we would have liked immensely for his activism, his political acumen, his ability to popularise a cause, his great love of wild nature and for his effectiveness.

He gave up a career in a thriving commercial business to devote himself to the cause of the birds and forest.

Perhaps the greatest tribute to him came from the Minister of Lands of the day who obviously exasperated by Sanderson¡¦s determination to protect Kapiti Island said ¡§I don¡¦t know who this chap Sanderson is but he¡¦s not going to dictate to me¡¨.

Sanderson gave the government of his day no peace until the pests on Kapiti were destroyed, the stock removed, a ranger installed on the island, and innumerable trees and shrubs planted so that Kapiti gradually became the glory that it is today.

He also successfully fought for the protection of the godwit and for the removal of the protected status of deer.

Sanderson showed that he was perhaps one of the most far-sighted New Zealand conservationists ever when, during the 1940s, he called for the creation of a Department of Conservation.

Today you stand on his shoulders, and on those of generations of Forest and Birders who, like Sanderson, gave the governments of their day no peace, as they labour for the preservation of nature.

You may be aware that my first involvement in organised conservation activities was more than 20 years ago as an ordinary Forest and Bird member on Waiheke Island in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf, where I still live.

My first campaign was a small but an important one against the despoliation of my own Rocky Bay community.

From there my conservation activism took me onto Forest and Bird's national executive, into local government and then into central government.

I thank Forest and Bird for the opportunities you gave me in my early days, and for the support you have given me ever since.

As Minister of Conservation, I have found that it has not been unqualified or unquestioning support. Neither of us would have wanted that.

But I have always recognised that your concerns are underpinned by the highest integrity and concern for New Zealand's conservation heritage.

Gerry McSweeney was your conservation director when I was first on the national executive.

Captain Sanderson would have been proud of him.

Gerry was inspirational as he led the fight then to remove native forests from the clutches of the Forest Service.

I understand Gerry has been returned as your President, and¡XGerry¡XI congratulate you on your re-election.

Gerry always acknowledged back then, as he still does now, that Forest and Bird derives its strength not just from its leaders but more importantly from its branches and from your members.

Forest and Bird has made and continues to make New Zealand a better place to live in.

By reminding us of the uniqueness of our natural heritage you help to give us a national identity as the land of the kiwi, the kakapo and the kereru, as well as the land of the long white cloud.

Forest and Bird is a special and indispensable organisation because of
„h your devotion,
„h your tireless work on branch committees and on practical conservation projects,
„h your involvement of children through the Kiwi Conservation Club, and
„h your ability to ensure that governments get no peace until action is taken.

At the end of the Clark-Anderton coalition government's first term in office, I am heartened by the significant conservation and environmental achievements that I can report back to New Zealanders.

The achievement that gives me the greatest personal pleasure is the protection of the 132,000 hectares of West coast rainforest once managed by Timberlands West Coast.

I know Eugenie Sage would probably use the term 'mismanaged', but let's remember the company was carrying out the policies of the government of the day.

That government would not change its policies so the people changed the government.

Next month, it is our turn to be called to account, but I have no fears of a major change in political direction.

I want to explain why I am proud of the record of the Clark-Anderton government, using just a few of the many examples available.

In the 1970s, ¡¥Okarito Forever¡¦ was the optimistic slogan chanted as the bulldozers ploughed into its virgin vastness.

In 1981, South Okarito was protected after a huge battle.

This year the time had come to save North Okarito.

It was with great pleasure that I accepted the recommendation of the Conservation Authority and asked the Governor-General to sign the gazettal notice that added the famous North Okarito forest into Westland Tai Poutini National Park, and into the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Area.

This is an achievement you can tell your mokopuna about with pride when you take them to the Coast and walk up to one of the world¡¦s greatest viewpoints, the Okarito Trig.

I like to look on the protection of the West Coast rainforests as one of our most significant ¡¥Treaty settlements¡¦ because the precious forests and native wildlife of Tai Poutini have been protected so that they will endure forever, for the benefit not just of Maori but all New Zealanders.

I¡¦m also proud of the coalition government¡¦s decision in its very first budget to generously fund the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy.

This Strategy sets out a 20-year plan to halt the decline of New Zealand¡¦s indigenous biodiversity.

A record $187 million of new government spending over five years was committed to implement the priority actions set out in the strategy.

I want to take a moment to highlight some of the other achievements that have occurred as a result of the biodiversity funding:

„h the establishment of five kiwi sanctuaries guaranteeing that the North Island brown kiwi, the Okarito kiwi and the Haast tokoeka will not become extinct in the wild;

„h significantly more funding to actively search for new invasive weeds;

„h undertaking actions to boost the survival chances of the taiko;

„h the specific targeting of pests such as possums and goats giving special forests, threatened bird species, giant native land snails and invertebrates a better chance of survival;

„h the eradication of rats from Campbell Island - the largest island eradication project in the world; and

„h the eradication of both rats and cats that was trialled on Tuhua (Mayor) Island.

It is important to note that the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy funding is contributing to a range of initiatives for biodiversity conservation outside of public conservation lands.

This has resulted in an increase of funding and consequently activities for the QEII National Trust, the Nature Heritage Fund and Nga Whenua Rahui.

Marine conservation has been given a boost.

New Zealand has an Exclusive Economic Zone that covers 1.3 million square nautical miles.

This contains about two-thirds of New Zealand¡¦s biodiversity.

The Biodiversity Strategy identified that we know very little about this vast underwater world, or about how our activities might be impacting on it.

A range of programmes aimed at increasing our knowledge of marine biodiversity and finding ways of protecting it will be funded as a result of the government¡¦s biodiversity funding.

I was delighted to announce the largest increase in funding for outdoor recreation on public conservation land ever agreed to be any government as part of a budget package.

The $349 million increase over 10 years effectively doubles the Department¡¦s funding for the maintenance of huts, tracks and other facilities.

This funding will make it easier for you to access the backcountry and it will also help protect the environment with improved sewage systems.

The protection of Crown-managed West Coast native forests and the biodiversity and outdoor recreation funding packages are not only hugely significant achievements but also statements of the coalition government¡¦s on-going commitment to conservation and the environment.

And there are many other achievements that have excited and pleased me during my tenure as the Minister of Conservation.

These include
„h the establishment of a a new National Park Rakiura on Stewart Island in March of this year;

„h the creation of the Korowai-Torlesse Tussocklands Park - our first tussock grasslands park;

„h the successful breeding of kakapo on Whenua Hou; and

„h my formal approval, as Minister of Conservation, of two Forest and Bird-led marine reserve applications, at Te Matuku Bay on Waiheke Island, and the Taputeranga proposal along the Wellington south coast.

Recently when I had the privilege to be invited to speak to a major United Nations conference in The Hague on the Convention on Biological Diversity, I paused to reflect on the Forrest Gump-like journey this Maori woman conservationist had undertaken.

My trips in April and May of this year to The Hague for the Biodiversity conference, to Turkey for the Gallipoli commemorations and then to Shimonoseki in Japan for the International Whaling Commission annual meeting, all reinforced to me that we do indeed live in the age of the global economy.

As we strive for more and more production and consumption, nature is being left with nowhere to go.

In my Maiden Speech to Parliament in March 1994, I observed that the term progress was a two-edged sword.

I said then:

"Perhaps the most compelling words that I have read about the nature of progress were those of the German philosopher, Walter Benjamin, who wrote the following: 'A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating.

His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread.

This is how one pictures the angel of history.

His face is turned towards the past.

Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet.

The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead and make whole what has been smashed.

But a storm is blowing from paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them.

This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris grows skyward.

This storm is what we call progress'."

As conservationists, we are exhorted often to act locally and think globally.

But this also creates a dilemma, as we know only too well that global action is required if the benefits of our local actions are to be sustained.

In Shimonoseki, as I walked each morning along the waterfront to the venue for another bitter and acrimonious day of the whaling meeting, I despaired as the view across the narrow Kanmon Strait to neighbouring Kyushu island was invariably obscured by, in the words of the Lorax, ¡§smoke-smuggered skies¡¨.

Never has a gripping Wellington southerly and the clear skies that follow seemed so attractive as on my return to New Zealand.

It was an extraordinary privilege for me to be able to address the Biodiversity conference in The Hague and share with them the benefits of New Zealand¡¦s world leading experience in the eradication of pests from islands.

My journey of turning local action into global action has stretched from putting out rat bait stations on Rakino Island in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf, to sharing this experience with the world conservation community.

New Zealand punched way above its weight on a number of global issues including the environment in David Lange¡¦s term as Prime Minister.

Subsequently, we largely took leave of the world environmental stage.

It is exciting to see us now taking up that role again under the leadership of Helen Clark, perhaps the most supportive Prime Minister that any Minister of Conservation could hope for.

As an example, the government recently announced a revised statement of New Zealand¡¦s strategic interest in Antarctica.

I commend the statement to you, and thank Forest and Bird for your influential input into the development of this important policy.

The protection of Antarctic wilderness, of marine mammals and marine ecosystems, have been identified as among our highest priorities.

It is disturbing, however, that we still need to assert the need for the preservation of Antarctica; wasn¡¦t that battle won years ago?

In the 70s and 80s we had the naive optimism that the greening of the political scene was inevitable as we moved into a more enlightened age than the one of our parents.

We saved the whales then, yet today at the International Whaling Commission, the fate of the world¡¦s whales again hangs in the balance.

If just a handful more developing nations can be won over to support the whaling aspirations of Japan, Norway and Iceland, we could see a return to the Moby Dick modus operandi with a resumption of widespread commercial whaling.

The assumption that we can continue to exploit the planet with impunity in defiance of ecological realities is the dominant ideology worldwide.

Politicians, economists, business, the media all strive to propel economic growth to even greater heights.

The cautionary advice of long lists of eminent scientists and ecologists that this scenario is leading to disastrous consequences for humanity has been expressed with an increasing sense of urgency.

Worldwide record high temperatures have been recorded, in the Arctic the permafrost is melting, glaciers on the flanks of Everest climbed by Hillary have melted away.

Yet this election we have one party ACT denying that there is any evidence at all of global warming and we have National announcing its intention not to ratify the Kyoto protocol.

Farmer lobby groups here argue against ratification in denial of the fact that their industry more than any other is utterly dependent on a stable climate.

The business community and the business media see ratification as leading to disaster.

As a cartoonist wryly observed ¡¥Mr President we have to tell you that after crunching the numbers, it is conclusive that saving the planet is simply uneconomic'.

Some businesses have recognised the climate change challenge and embraced sustainable building designs, energy management plans, and eco-friendly products.

But New Zealand¡¦s greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow.

There is so much we could be doing to conserve energy without sending us back to stone-age lifestyles.

I was impressed in Japan by escalators that were triggered into moving only when a pedestrian approached them.

How much energy do we waste in New Zealand by having escalators whirring endlessly with no one on them.

In Japan while I was there, there was extensive coverage of Japan¡¦s decision to ratify the Kyoto protocol.

Unlike here, there was hardly any political or business opposition to ratification that I saw.

One regret I have is that I will not part of the Cabinet that ratifies Kyoto later in the year.

And yes I am well aware that on its own Kyoto will have little impact but it is the beginning and will hopefully be followed by measures to achieve sustained reductions in the greenhouse gas emissions that imperil life on earth.

New Zealand is in a unique position to take the lead internationally on environmental issues.

We are but a small set of islands but we are blessed with some very enlightened inhabitants.

We have given leadership before on the nuclear threat, and today we are to the fore in international conservation forums offering the world leadership on issues such as alien species, forest conservation and whale protection.

We are poised once more to take a leading role on Antarctica.

We can and must take the lead, with Australia, on tackling the slaughter of seabirds in southern ocean fisheries.

The critics tell us that our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are pointless as at best it is a token contribution in the global context.

In one sense they are right. But they overlook the enormous impact a small country can have by taking the lead both practically and politically with principled policy backed by effective domestic action.

Another important international convention is the next World Summit on Sustainable Development is due to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa from 26 August to 4 September 2002.

At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, the international community adopted Agenda 21, an unprecedented global plan of action for sustainable 111development.

But the best strategies are only as good as their implementation.

Ten years later, today¡¦s leaders must be able to demonstrate concrete steps and identify quantifiable targets for better implementing Agenda 21.

I have been examining New Zealand¡¦s contribution in this area. Steady progress has been made to protect remaining indigenous forests.

State owned indigenous forests are now largely protected.

There has been a seven-fold increase in private lands voluntarily set aside for the preservation of ecosystems.

Maori landowners have willingly embraced their kaitiaki role resulting in major increases in the area of native forest protected on Maori land.

Intensive pest control techniques have been developed and some progress made - a number of species that were on the brink of extinction have been given new hope.

The kakapo is now running out of room on its adopted island home of Whenua Hou, so that we are now looking to Chalky Island in Fiordland on which to establish a new population.

1080 operations are rescuing large areas of native forest from serious possum-induced degradation. Native wildlife in these 1080-treated forests is bouncing back.

But on private land, wetlands continued to be degraded and encroached upon.

Our technical capacity to deal with biodiversity challenges remained limited, we lack the techniques to control stoats and rats over wide areas.

As a result species such as the mohua, or yellowhead, are declining at an alarming rate.

Historical imbalances in the Department of Conservation¡¦s pest control efforts that have focussed on the possum and to some extent goats to the exclusion of deer have yet to be adequately addressed.

Yet scientists tell us that deer are equally serious forest pests.

Integrated pest management has yet to be achieved.

Despite greater efforts at the border, new alien species continue to arrive and eradication response times sometimes have been slower than we hoped.

Unless we have effective border biosecurity and rapid and effective eradication of the first infestations of new alien pests, then all the gains of decades of conservation effort are put at risk.

The World Summit on Sustainable Development, which Helen Clark is expected to attend as Prime Minister, will bring together tens of thousands of participants

Heads of State and Government, national delegates and leaders from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), businesses and other major groups will focus the world's attention and direct action toward meeting difficult challenges, including improving people's lives and conserving our natural resources in a world that is growing in population.

We can not be complacent. We should be leading the way.

It worries me that despite the overwhelming evidence of global biodiversity crises, including threats to human kind itself through global warming, resource depletion etc, we still exploit as if there is no tomorrow.

Economic growth must not be the only measure of a country¡¦s well being.

But back on the home-front and onto a more positive note.

Having now addressed the budgetary needs of recreation on conservation lands, the next Minister of Conservation is free to turn once more to the next priorities for biodiversity conservation.

It will be up to that Minister to set her or his priorities but it is clear that freshwater biodiversity conservation is an area critically in need of greater attention.

We have made a start with the funding for pest fish surveillance, but it surely time for our long neglected native fish and other freshwater native wildlife to take their turn in the spotlight.

I am continually reminded by iwi around the country that the conservation of native fish is one of their priorities.

This is an area where Forest and Bird and tangata whenua have much in common.

You have earned respect for your advocacy for native fish and need to continue this work in partnership with iwi.

As I prepare to enjoy my retirement from Parliament, I want to draw attention to a number of issues that I see as unfinished business.

The death of marine mammals and seabirds as bycatch in our fisheries remains disturbingly high. There needs to be dramatic and sustained reductions in these deaths of what by law are absolutely protected species. The national plan of action on seabirds was returned by me and by the Minister of Fisheries to our respective departments to be strengthened. I appreciate you are frustrated by the delays in settling this plan but both I and Pete Hodgson wanted much more effective action than the draft plan offered.

It is clear that there are roadblocks to the creation of marine reserves. None have been gazetted while I was minister and that is a desperate disappointment of mine. I look forward to the enactment of the Marine Reserves Bill I have introduced to the house as a way forward. But the legitimacy of marine reserves as a key element of the Government¡¦s Biodiversity Strategy needs to be accepted by fishing interests and by fisheries officials. The agreed goal is 10% set aside in marine protected areas by 2010, an auction at election time whether that should be 10 or 20% is meaningless while progress on the ground is so dreadfully slow.

The public and conservation interest in the South Island high country needs to be more effectively asserted. Tenure review is leading to worthwhile gains but on its own as presently configured is not seeing the conservation and recreation outcomes that I believe the nation requires. There is a need for the Crown to be able to give greater effect to the public interest in these lands and you are right to make this a key issue during the election.

I leave the Department of Conservation 'in good heart', having initiated the development of General Policy under the Conservation Act and the National Parks Act.

This policy exercise could set the direction of conservation management for the next decade or longer.

I invite you to participate fully in the process and ensure your views are heard by the Department, by the Conservation Authority and by the incoming Minister.

After years of being a Cinderella department, DOC is now well-resourced and has friends at the upper levels of Cabinet, not just at the bottom.

The Department is a world leader in conservation management and the techniques developed by those inspirational field staff and scientists¡Xso well-profiled in the recent Park Ranger TV series¡Xfor rescuing endangered species and dealing to alien pests can be shared with others to benefit global biodiversity conservation.

DOC needs to be on the front foot, and to always remember that community support for conservation will not flow from watering down the goals of conservation but rather through effectively communicating the need for and the benefits of conservation.

As the famous biologist E.O. Wilson once said ¡§Every scrap of biological diversity is priceless, to be learned and cherished and never to be surrendered without a struggle¡¨.

While I am leaving the bearpit that the House of Representatives has become, I will not retreat one centimetre from fighting for the environment and conservation until the battle is won.

ENDS

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