Question Time 10 December 2014

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

EUGENIE SAGE (Green) to the Minister of Conservation: Did she raise any concerns with the Minister of Energy and Resources about the potential impacts on the Māui’s dolphin, a critically endangered species, of granting an oil and gas exploration permit in their habitat, including in a marine mammal sanctuary?

Hon MAGGIE BARRY (Minister of Conservation): No, I did not.

Eugenie Sage: Is the reason the Minister did not raise any concerns that she knows that her Government does not care about protecting the world’s rarest dolphin, the Māui’s dolphin, despite there being fewer Māui’s dolphins left on the planet than there are MPs in this House?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Down here, we cannot hear the question because of the barracking over there from a number of nervous backbenchers.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I acknowledge that the level of noise was louder. I heard the question. The question will now be answered. The reason why there was an interjection was actually because of the tone of the question that was raised by the member. I am not ruling it out of order, but that certainly gives plenty of licence to the Minister.

Hon MAGGIE BARRY: This National-led Government is committed to ensuring the long-term survival and safety of every single Māui’s dolphin, and there is proof of that. In 2012 the Department of Conservation established a collaborative forum of experts that reviewed the potential risks to Māui’s dolphins and what more could be done to ensure their survival. That forum found that the threat to the Māui’s dolphins from oil and gas development is negligible. Fishing-related activities, specifically set nets, were identified as the biggest threat—some 95 percent—to Māui’s dolphins, and in response we roughly doubled the area of the set net ban, which is now an area of 6,200 square kilometres.

Eugenie Sage: How is the Minister fulfilling her obligations under the onservation Act to protect our threatened species and their habitats when the Minister of Energy and Resource has granted oil exploration permits affecting 302 conservation areas and over 700 square kilometres of conservation land?

Hon MAGGIE BARRY: I am entirely confident that we have the right level of communication and processes between the various ministries that effect the long-term care and protection of all of our species that are under threat. When it comes to a Cabinet process, when we look at the Department of Conservation, we were, as a department, consulted by the advisers to the Minister of Energy and Resources during the initial phase of yesterday’s block offer proposals—that was earlier this year—and again when the bids were received. I am very confident that that process is working well and that the Cabinet process, which involves me as the Minister and a ministerial sign-off across Cabinet, was completed on Monday of this week. Let that member and that party be reassured that the conservation of our endangered species—flora and fauna—is absolutely a priority, and we have absolute confidence in the processes that are in place.

Eugenie Sage: How can the Minister be so confident that the department cares more about the protection of our threatened species when it is allowing oil exploration in the habitat of threatened species like the great spotted kiwi and the Māui’s dolphin—those areas are now open for oil exploration?

Hon MAGGIE BARRY: I would draw the attention of that member to one aspect of this. Let us take the Māui’s dolphin, for example. We formed the Māui Dolphin Research Advisory Group, which is meeting and currently developing research solutions to ensure the long-term survival of the dolphin. We have convened the group under the Department of Conservation and the Ministry for Primary Industries, and that consists of representatives from universities, iwi, central government, and regional councils, as well as mining, fishing, and conservation organisations. Our marine mammals are being kept safe, and that is because we have put in place a code of conduct for minimising acoustic disturbance to marine mammals from seismic survey operations. That became mandatory in the law last year, and it is yet another example of where this Government has moved in—where the former Labour Government, propped up by Greens, had absolutely no provisions for protection at all and drilled a number of wells. We have—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! That answer is certainly long enough.