Waste Watch: Doc Sending Staff to Australia to Burn Taxpayer Cash
The Taxpayers’ Union has today revealed that the Department of Conservation has spent over $100,000 to send staff overseas to learn a skill not applicable in New Zealand. 47 staff have traveled to Australia to learn how to conduct controlled burn-offs, despite the practice not being used by DoC.
The documents, available on the Taxpayers’ Union website, include an email from a DoC official regarding the Taxpayers’ Union enquires which suggests a an ‘excuse’ the Department could use for why staff were going on the trips.
Also released is feedback from staff that went the trips, including the admission by one that the group didn’t “really do much fire stuff”, despite that being the apparent purpose of the trip.
Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director, Jordan Williams, says:
“The documents reveal that DoC has been left searching for ad hoc excuses to justify this expenditure. Are DoC staff so well equipped that they need to send staff on training programs for things that only assist conservation in Australia?"
“Other than the 47 staff who got a free trip to Australia, how does DoC or the public benefit from these trips?"
“This was an excuse for a junket, not training that furthers New Zealand’s conservation. They might as well have learned the didgeridoo."
“The Minister for Conservation should put an end to this ‘controlled-burning' of taxpayers’ hard earned money."
What is the purpose of these staff trips to Australia?
DoC told us that “…the main objectives of developing leadership qualities of our crew leaders in high stress situations, enabling staff to experience a variety of fire behavior in a controlled setting, applying fire control and suppression methods in different circumstances and generally allow staff to experience the intensity associated with large fire events and practice the appropriate responses.”
How many trips have there been?
Trips were organised in 2012 and 2014. There were 25 staff on the 2012 trip, while 22 attended in 2014.
How much did they cost taxpayers?
In total, the two trips cost the New Zealand taxpayers at least $105,791. There were additional costs, however these were covered by the Australian Government.
Why does the Taxpayers’ Union object to the spending?
It’s not clear what New Zealand taxpayers received for the spending. At best Australia got cheap labour to assist with their fire management. The skills learned by DoC staff are of no use for New Zealand conservation – the ‘controlled burning’ process is not used by DoC in New Zealand.