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Keynote Speech at FishOps 2006 Workshop - Anderton

Keynote Speech at FishOps 2006 Workshop - Anderton

We are very lucky in this country to enjoy one of the most professional, incorruptible and capable public sectors in the world.

Keynote Speech at FishOps 2006 Workshop, Siegfried's Conference Centre, Appleby, Nelson

I welcome this conference and the chance it offers MFish operations to build on its performance. I want to start by placing on record my admiration for the quality and professionalism of our public sector.

There used to be a culture in New Zealand where public service was derided. It was a culture exploited by individuals who took public assets for themselves. They were able to do it because they convinced a lot of people that the public service wasn't good at much. And we found out many sectors deteriorated when they were unshackled from the professionalism of the public sector.

I've sat around the cabinet table when we wrote cheques for hundreds of millions of dollars to bring back assets like rail and Air New Zealand under public ownership - and even re-invented some like NZ Post's Kiwibank!

It turns out that the public sector has some special qualities. Public service at its best is noble and selfless. We are very lucky in this country to enjoy one of the most professional, incorruptible and capable public sectors in the world.

I hope you will take pride in that and in the contribution you each make to the standards of the sector. The strength of our public sector generally is a powerful platform on which we can freshen and develop our performance. And it is a valuable asset to bring to the table when central government develops partnerships with industry.

I want to talk a little about both of these - why we need to build in partnership with industry; The opportunities that exist to improve the way we do things. I want us to maximise our performance and to play our part in maximising the performance of the fishing sector, because it is crucial to New Zealand's future. The primary sector remains the backbone of our economy. It's fashionable to think primary industries are declining in importance. But the facts tell a different story.

Over the last fifteen years our primary industries have increased their productivity at more than double the rate of the rest of the economy. Fisheries and aquaculture grew 54 percent from 1997 to 2002. Seafood exports brought us $1.2 billion in earnings last year. So there is a lot to celebrate in the success of the industry.

But I don't want us to be satisfied with this.

Our Exclusive Economic Zone is nearly four times our land area. It must be possible to create more value from such a substantial resource. Our exports are growing.

There is strong demand here and in markets around the world for quality fish products. Both the range and quality of our exported product has substantially improved as a result. But our exports are still dominated by trade in low value commodities. Our returns can best be grown not just by catching and selling more fish - but by also increasing the value of our fish exports.

Our aim should be to at least double the value we receive from commercial fisheries over the next ten years. I am convinced we can do this without having to increase the number of wild fish we take. Ensuring we manage our fish stocks for the future as well as for today is vital if we are to protect our resource base.

We are critically dependent on the long-term viability of our eco-systems. We also need our exports to be consumer focused. Consumers increasingly want their food produced in socially and environmentally sustainable ways.

Consumers are willing to pay up to 20% more for product if it carries environmental certification. So one way we can add value to our fisheries is by attaining this certification, made available in New Zealand through the Marine Stewardship Council. The challenge to the Ministry and industry is to attain this 'eco-label' for other fisheries, and to do so as soon as possible.

New Zealand has a good story to tell on our environmental management. New Zealand's fisheries management system is acknowledged internationally as one of the few successful quota management systems. We need to build on our progress.

But we are only going to maximise our effectiveness if we take the industry with us. I am fully aware there are hotheads around on all sides who would take a confrontational approach to fisheries management and exploitation of the resource. This puts MFish in the middle as the 'honest broker'. And it means that successful policy implementation relies on your professionalism and skill. That's why I started out stressing the importance of what you do.

MFish has much more than a regulatory role in protecting the fishery resource. It also has an economic development role. Its job is to help maximise the value of the resource as well as to protect it.

Central government needs to be a partner to everyone with a stake in the industry. 'Partnership means we must focus on our shared interest and our top priorities and work together with good will to realise our goals.

This means the Ministry needs to be responsive and 'user-friendly'. It also means we need to take a whole-of-government approach to working with other agencies of central government.

It also depends on our professionalism, and integrity in making decisions. Some of the decisions require a choice between competing interests. I don't mind making unpopular decisions when they are called for. I think I have reputation for strength and determination when it comes to doing the right thing.

But I have a saying that I like the facts to get in the way of a good story or my own prejudice! I make decisions on the evidence in front of me. It's not what I think or feel but what I know from the facts of the case.

So I value the quality of advice I receive. I ask for the best information available when decisions come forward to me. I read all the advice that gets put before me. I never need to have advice softened or carefully phrased.
I want advice in plain language, with clear, concise explanations.

The best reports are often concise, simple, single page documents, perhaps supported by a more detailed technical document. They should tell me clearly and upfront what the problem is you are trying to solve and what the potential solutions are, in the straightest, simplest way you can find.

In return, you will find I will act on good advice and back officials when they act with professionalism and integrity. We can see that across the board in the work we do. I have made a priority out of getting on top of fisheries offending, for example. Serious offending is stealing from everyone else. We need tough penalties for offenders to ensure the punishment fits the crime. And industry players need to know we are enforcing the law in a strict and even-handed way.

The reliable, impartial application of laws, in a transparent way, is one of the basic building blocks of strong economic performance. It's a contribution central government needs to make as a partner with both fishers and NGOs. Everyone benefits, except offenders.

I recognise the Ministry is entering a period of change. It will rely on your professionalism and abilities in managing our valuable marine resource. These two days are about the part you will play in that change of direction.

I welcome the progress of MFish in adapting itself to manage them and I acknowledge the contribution you all make as operations staff. I wish you all the best for the conference's second day tomorrow and for your future in the Ministry.


Ends

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