Maggie’s Statement in the Budget Debate
Hon MAGGIE BARRY: Talofa lava. I intend to spend my time today in this call talking about some of the initiatives that this Government is taking as a result of the Budget this year in the areas my portfolio responsibilities: conservation; arts, culture, and heritage; and seniors. I begin with the kiwi.
Our iconic national bird has been under threat for a long time, and that is to do with the amount of predators in this country. My job as the Minister of Conservation is to sign the death warrant on a lot of these unwelcome eco-invaders. Unless we can do that the 2 percent decline in kiwi numbers on our mainland will continue to grow at an alarming rate, and in our grandchildren’s time there will be no more kiwi on the mainland. My aim in life is to reverse that decline, and I intend to spend that $11.2 million on reversing that decline so that there is a 2 percent increase in kiwi numbers. This is a tall order.
So in addition to pest and predator control, we are going to be working with a group that has been around in New Zealand doing great work saving kiwi, encouraging breeding programmes, for more than 20 years, and I am referring to Kiwis for Kiwi. I am going to be joining forces with them and encouraging them to make as an umbrella movement a sort of a bringing together of all of the groups that have been working independently to save our kiwi. So Kiwis for Kiwi will effectively deliver to the community programmes to allocate the money, and to really pull together the programmes in conjunction with the Department of Conservation, and I think that is the way ahead.
We have had some successes in the past year or so with helping our native birds come back from the brink of extinction. Battle for our Birds has been enormously successful. It is in fact the largest ever predator programme in New Zealand’s history, and it covered some 600,000 hectares of land. We were aiming to save about 12 of our endangered species, mostly birds but also snails, and long-tailed and short-tailed bats, and I am very pleased to be able to report that the 1080 aerial drops, which were at the heart of that particular programme, have been very successful.
We have done some measurements around certain birds, for example. We have had not a great deal of success in the past in places like the Dart Valley and the Routeburn Valley, but this year the nesting successes for the threatened mohua, or yellowhead, have been spectacular at just under 100 percent whereas previously almost half of these nests in those two areas had failed to produce eggs or chicks that survived. We do need to be vigilant, though, and monitoring will continue and the Department of Conservation will continue an escalated anti-predator campaign over the next 4 years. The treatment of the rat numbers in particular in areas like Oparara and Kahurangi National Parks have also prevented stoat plagues. So this has been a measure of success that is undeniable, and I think it is something we need to be proud of. I certainly am very proud of the efforts of the Department of Conservation workers who have been at the heart of that campaign.
Next week is Arbor Day, and I intend to be in the electorate of my colleague and friend Scott Simpson. In Coromandel their beaches are not quite as good as ours on the North Shore, but certainly the have some remarkable natural attributes, so I am going to be talking with him about some of the kauri dieback measures. We have spent, as many of you are well aware, more than $21.5 million. That was allocated in the last Budget; we have not yet spent it. I thought that the case for kauri dieback and the need to fight it in the last Budget was so urgent that we have brought forward the time when we can start spending that money, and we have a designated team now who will be focusing on kauri dieback, and I will be making further announcements on this in the Coromandel next week.
But, really, when you look at the level of groundwork that needs to be done, it is extensive. The key thing about kauri dieback is that is spreads through foot traffic. It spreads through soil particles being caught up on the hooves or paws of animals, as well as on human beings’ boots, and then the spores of the soil-borne pathogen are transferred—including by pigs, goats, and a number of other creatures. So we are being very careful to ensure that what we can do in terms of mechanisms—like advancing education, really. A lot of people do not really understand how it is spread, so we are putting up different signage in different languages. We are putting up more than 500 extra hygiene stations, which will enable people to clean their boots. We will also be ensuring that boardwalks are built.
So that money is going to be well-spent in the next few years. We are set to begin this month with a detailed data analysis, including the mapping of tracks and the cost estimates for the upgrade. We also need to prioritise the tracks that need to be either closed or contained in some way. Track closures are not something we do readily and easily but sometimes it is the only way to stop the spread of the disease, particularly in the winter months, because when there is mud it sticks to boots and so forth and is more readily spread. So our boardwalk specifications are based on field trials of drainage specifications to ensure the natural flow of water has been improved, and those are the sorts of things we have been planning to do and are now rolling out.
We cannot, of course, do any of this alone. No one Government department, even if it is as good as the Department of Conservation, can do all of this by itself, so we need partnerships and collaboration. I am pleased to be able to say that regional councils collectively are aiming to commit more than $700,000 per year towards the research programmes, local engagements, and on-the-ground management. They will also contribute significant staff time, which is very welcome. Scion also will make a contribution of around $700,000 towards kauri dieback research over the next 6 years, and that is part of its Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment funded phytopthora research programme.
So these are the sorts of measures that we are taking across the Government, and that brings me to the healthy pursuits factor of the great outdoors. There is a programme that started, I think, in Korea. It has been picked up by the Americans as well. It is called Healthy Parks, Healthy People, and what it does is it brings together international evidence which really tells people that there is a benefit to going into the great outdoors. [Interruption] A recent study, which the ill-informed members of the Opposition might be interested to listen to, is from the New Zealand Transport Agency. It put together a report that estimates that walking and cycling saves $2.70 and $1.30 per kilometre respectively to the New Zealand economy in health benefits. These are the kinds of measures that I am talking about with my colleagues across the Government. We do need to explore ways of maximising the impact, spreading the word, and getting in a collaborative partnership with other departments and other entrepreneurs, and philanthropists as well. Once again, the cradle to grave mentality that the Opposition has peddled so unsuccessfully for so long is not something that the New Zealand populace appreciate at all.
What it welcomes from this National Government is a collaborative approach, not just leaving it all up to the drip-feeding of the Government—that sort of extreme socialism that means that there is never enough money to go around—and we spiral into indebtedness, which is the reason why the Opposition will stay on the Opposition benches for decades to come, I hope. I am about to declare war on weeds, putting aside the vagaries of Opposition members’ nonsense. The Department of Conservation spends around $10 million a year on operational weed control. You may ask why I am not tempted to spray a bit of it around on the Opposition benches, but I am not that kind of person. I believe that instead we need to targets herbicides and measures for control against weeds, where they belong. Again, it is a collaboration.
We have wildings, which, as many of you may well know, are plants that are in the wrong place and that have spread to areas where they must not spread. The estimates say that in about 20 years’ time, around about a quarter of our entire landscape could be taken up with these wildings, these plants that have invaded good pastoral land, and we need to hold them in check. The longer that we do not actually spend money and that we hold back, the more expensive and difficult the process is going to be. I envisage of doing more detailed work on this programme of high-priority weed work. We are going to target the dirty dozen of weeds. Department of Conservation officials and I are having a very good time looking around at the various places around the country—[Interruption]—do not tempt me; it is low-hanging fruit over there, is it not? It is too low hanging. The dirty dozen in the Opposition members can look after themselves. When it comes to weed control we do really need to get specific. I want to engage the hearts and minds of New Zealanders to join with us in this fight because the suffocation of our New Zealand forests, the seedlings that are not making it through to the stage that they need to are the sorts of reasons why we need to try to combat the weed problem. I intend to work with Weedbusters and a lot of other very strong community groups to ensure that we can win this war on weeds.
The New Zealand flag consideration is, of course, going on at the moment. Ultimately the law will come through the Ministry of Culture and Heritage. We do indeed have many opportunities to look at flags. I will be hosting an exhibition here in Parliament. There is just not enough time in this call to do justice to all I intend to do, but thank you for your time today.