Just 1% please
Allocating just 1 percent of the government’s annual $96 billion spending to core conservation work would more than double the Department of Conservation’s current budget, suggests Alex Stone.
The Government announcement of a predator-free goal for New Zealand by 2050 sounds good. But, so far, the budget for this is woefully inadequate and comes on top of years of cost-cutting at the Department of Conservation (DOC).
Given the importance of conservation land to New Zealand’s image and our collective future, we should invest more in conservation.
So how much does it take to run our country? Take a look at a website page from the Treasury titled “Total Crown Expenses by functional classification”, and you’ll see that the Government spent $95.9 billion in the financial year ending in June 2016.
The big ticket items were $28.9 billion on social security and welfare. Fair enough – we have to pay pensions and look after the vulnerable. Next was $15.2 billion on health. Also OK – you gotta take care of the sick folk. Closely followed by $13.8 billion on education – yes, we must educate our kids and pay the teachers. So far, so logical. But scroll down towards the bottom of the list, and you find the $616 million spent on environmental protection. Do some more digging, and you’ll find that DOC’s budget accounted for $430 million of that environmental protection spending.
That’s about 0.45% of total government spending. In fact, spending on core conservation work is even less than this. For example, in DOC’s 2016/17 budget, just $160.6 million was allocated for natural heritage – money spent looking after species and ecosystems. And $143.3 million was put aside for recreation, such as maintaining huts and tracks.
Now consider the 100% PURE campaign. It’s selling New Zealand’s s unique proposition to the world of international tourism. You don’t see pictures of hospitals, schools, suburbs, or open cast mines in the billboards.
You see stunning images of our natural world – most taken within the conservation estate.
New Zealand has a high proportion of land held as conservation estate – about 30 percent. Or, put another way, about 8.5 million hectares of native forests and is lands and beaches and rivers and lakes and alpine land. And a further 1.77 million hectares of marine reserves. Stunning stuff. Plenty of scope for those 100% PURE photographers. And plenty of space to tuck away a tourist or two.
There’s money in them green-blue spaces too.
International tourism earned $14.5 billion in the year ending in March 2016 – or nearly 20% of our foreign exchange earnings. In total, tourism expenditure, including domestic visitors, was $37.4 billion. An overwhelming majority of those visitors were enticed by the splendours
of our natural environment. Just like they saw in the 100% PURE posters and billboards. They came to experience that for real. Good on them.
So why then do we spend so little on caring for one of our greatest assets?
How about a new campaign to sit beside 100% PURE?
We could call it the 1% PLEASE initiative. That ’ s not asking for much – just one percent of our government’s annual spending to look after the forests, the rivers, the mountains, and those, in turn, who look after them.
But no. In the past few years, we have seen budget cuts for DOC and more than 150 jobs lost. Good people, doing good work. Now less of them must do it all with less resources. Why can’t we set aside just one percent for this important government agency?
No-one who sets budget figures could refuse that, surely? It all makes good sense. It’s the ultimate in business and brand sustainability. It would also help future generations of our own citizens.
Just 1% PLEASE. Ironic, isn’ t it, to think this level of investment would more than double DOC ’ s current budget. Puts things a bit into perspective.
Alex Stone is a Forest & Bird member, artist, and writer based on Waiheke Island.