Metiria Turei questions the Prime Minister on Department of Conservation funding

6. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Ka tū ia i runga i te mana o āna kaupapa here katoa?

[Does he stand by all his Government's policies?]

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH (Prime Minister): Yes. I particularly stand by our family incomes policy, which will benefit 1.3 million New Zealand families by over $26 per week and which will include higher payments per child, lower taxes paid by everyone on a low and middle income, and also significant increases in accommodation assistance for those with the highest housing costs.

Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister agree that the Department of Conservation (DOC) plays a critical role as nature's primary defender on behalf of all New Zealanders?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, it plays a critical role, but not the only role. Increasingly, communities are involved in, for instance, Predator Free New Zealand, and I certainly regard all those who own land in New Zealand or use it as part of the process of protecting our environment for all New Zealanders. Actually, most of our natural environment is not controlled or owned by DOC; it is controlled or owned by landowners and operators who do care about our environment.

Metiria Turei: Why, then, has he cut hundreds of millions of dollars from DOC's budget, forcing lay-offs of front-line rangers and closing field bases?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: Certainly, my advice is that the member is not correct about that. What is much more exciting about the work that DOC is doing is that for the first time ever it is taking a long-term view about the management of the DOC estate, the management of functions like threatened species, and the management over all its assets, laying out a 10- to 20-year view so that we can better see what impact our investment in conservation is going to have.

Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister agree that DOC's two-page submission that "neither supported nor opposed" the Te Kaha mining application on entirely precious conservation land is evidence that his Government has, effectively, silenced nature's primary defender?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: No. I mean, DOC has the obligation to follow its statutory processes. As I have said, it is not the only guardian of the natural environment in New Zealand. Increasingly, the way it works is to cooperate with community groups, which is turning out to be quite successful in the case of Predator Free New Zealand, and also, increasingly, to work with landowners who do control more of our land mass and more of our environment than DOC does.

Metiria Turei: Why is his Government's conservation plan to protect only 1 in 5 of our most threatened species by 2030, when we can protect them all?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: I would dispute the member's description of where that work is headed, but, certainly, the preservation and the improvement of our threatened species is a high priority. We are keen to see more innovation, a better organisational structure, and a longer-term view taken to ensure that we can, for instance, turn around the long-term decline in kiwi, and that work is well under way.

Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister agree with Jan Wright, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, who recently said the situation for our birds is desperate; if he does agree, why are there around 200 less front-line DOC rangers today—

Hon Members: Fewer.

Metiria Turei: —than there were in 2009? Thank you!

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: Of course, the future of our birds matters in the way that the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment said. That is why we have the Battle for our Birds, for which, I have to say, it is sometimes a challenge to deal with those who, for instance, oppose the use of 1080, but we are determined to give our bird species the best opportunity. It is the inspiration behind Predator Free 2050, which is going to engage, as it already is, a much wider number of New Zealanders than the possible numbers of DOC rangers in the very constructive process of reducing the burden of predators so that our birds can thrive.

Metiria Turei: If he is so reluctant to increase core funding for conservation, why will he not raise a small $20 tourism levy, which will provide tens of millions of dollars of new funding for pest control to help exactly those native birds to thrive again?

Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: We are quite happy to budget more for the Department of Conservation where we can see that there are going to be real conservation benefits. However, we do not believe in just slapping a levy or a new tax on everything—all the suggestions the Opposition has made. We would rather focus on what result we are going to get and fund that adequately.