Estimates Debate – Environment Sector
Hon MAGGIE BARRY (Minister of Conservation): Kia ora, Minister, members. Mr Chair, ngā mihi nui ki Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori, tēnā koe.
[Thank you, Minister and members. Much accolades to Māori Language Week, and to you, Mr Chair.]
It gives me great pleasure to stand before this Committee this afternoon and take a call on the appropriations. From the point of view of being the Minister of Conservation, it is very important to me that we understand the nature of the struggle that we are involved in. It is important that we have enough money to do what we need to do, and in order to make taxpayers’ money go even further, we need to work in collaboration. So in my speech today I am going to outline some of the more successful collaborations, including collaboration with the Australians.
Two weeks ago I was a keynote speaker at the inaugural Threatened Species Summit in Melbourne, where I discovered that the Australians have vastly more money to spend on many things than we do. However, what they envy from us is the level of collaboration that we have been able to knit together with partners, philanthropists, and businesses, so that we can work as a whole team to overcome our obstacles. As New Zealand has experienced, and so too has Australia, our vulnerable species are prone to being predated upon by mostly eco-invaders. Ironically, here in New Zealand one of the worst offenders for us is a treasured, protected species of possum in Australia. I did offer to ship over a couple of million to solve both our problems, but Australia refused that kind offer.
However, where we were able to collaborate was around the need to have a strategy and to have what we are about to announce, which is a threatened species ambassador. This is an individual who will help us to develop a strategy and a series of guidelines for enacting with partners, so that we will be able to do the good fight together. I will give a couple of examples that are working successfully at the moment.
One of them is Air New Zealand. Air New Zealand is going to part fund this threatened species ambassador’s role for the first couple of years. That is building on a successful, long-term partnership. It is worth $7 million, over the past 3 years with Air New Zealand, and it gives significant gains for conservation, our New Zealand economy, and also Air New Zealand. It is a classic win-win , which is why not only it has sustained but also it is being built on. Air New Zealand through its in-flight entertainment and advertising has contributed to the success of the Department of Conservation’s Great Walks. As we know, tourism is now our biggest earner in New Zealand. It has overtaken dairying. By teaming up with Air New Zealand and promoting our walker numbers, for example, it has gone up by more than 30 percent since the partnership began.
So, in round figures, that is up from 79,000 overnight stays, now to more than over 100,000. The Department of Conservation has also been working a lot with Genesis Energy. That was a partnership that began 4 years ago. Over the past 5 years, $2.5 million has been specifically aimed at supporting and protecting the blue duck, our whio, or whiowhio as it is called in the middle part of the North Island. So what that partnership has meant is that we have been able to double the amount of conservation work.
We now have eight secure sites to maintain a viable population of ducks that breed, and we take out the baby ducklings, the whiowhio, to actually get what we call a boot camp for ducklings, which is where they get training in having to swim upstream on some very rapid bits of water, so that when they are released to the wild, they are then made fit for purpose in the wild. It is a fantastic thing. So welcoming partnerships with philanthropists is also something that the Department of Conservation has encouraged in the past couple of years.
NEXT Foundation, for example, is running $100 million of strategic philanthropy over the next 10 years, in partnership with the Department of Conservation and other entities. NEXT Foundation commits something like $5 million and up to $15 million a year, and it ring-fences three major projects including zero invasive pests, or ZIP as it is known.
Along with NEXT Foundation, Fonterra, the dairy industry, the Department of Conservation, and the philanthropists, we are all working together. The target is a big one. To the members of this House who understand these things, to be able to be predator free and to have that as a measurable target and goal by 2050 is indeed a very ambitious target. It is only by involving philanthropists and an army of volunteers to help us that we will be able to get there. ZIP is focused, as we are as a Government and as a department, on excluding pests from all the parts of the mainland where they have been eradicated. The Department of Conservation is extremely good and effective, and is known to be nationwide and internationally, in looking after pest-free islands. Our ambitious goal now is to transfer those skills to the mainland.
There are many excellent projects that this department and this Government are involved in. I am very proud of them, and we will continue to do our best.