Nature: Voters’ first choice
This election year Forest & Bird is asking all Kiwis to be kiwisavers, and when they vote, to Vote for Nature.
We hope you’ll have seen our posters. We asked all Parliamentary parties contesting the 2011 general election to tell us their policies on environmental threats and Forest & Bird’s main conservation goals.
The full list included questions about whether they would save our landscapes and precious places – such as the Mackenzie, protecting the Denniston Plateau from open cast coal mining and the Mokihinui River from hydro damming.
There were questions about threatened species (their biodiversity and conservation policies), our threatened planet (their fossil fuel and carbon emissions policies), and many more.
It seemed that reading simple instructions and confining their answers to the specified number of words was an unexpectedly challenging task! – a task on which some failed.
At the time of writing, 10 days out from the general election, there is still nothing from the National Party, although Dr Smith gave us an undertaking that on the day all their environment policy had been announced, we would have the answers. National can be found here and here refusing to answer similar questions from Radio New Zealand.
We know from their environment and conservation policy releases that National does have some good policy – along with bad ones, like cynical proposals to review sections 6 and 7 of the Resource Management Act, and conservation policy that challenges the Conservation Act.
However, if a National-led government is re-elected they will revive and pass marine reserves legislation in the next three years, and focus on oceans and marine.
This is a theme among the parties, and a positive one. Both Greens and Labour were committed to establishing a Kermadecs ocean sanctuary; the Greens said yes to protecting one-third of our oceans; and Labour is willing to aim for “some sort of protection” for 30% by 2020.
All three major parties also say freshwater is a priority. National would continue the work of the Land and Water Forum (whether it adopts all recommendations may be another story), and rank rivers and lakes by pollution levels, so the worst can be prioritised for remediation.
Meanwhile, dairy intensification continues, with irrigation another part of National’s freshwater policy, and taxpayers funding both freshwater cleanup and agricultural GHG emissions.
The Greens were the first to announce their flagship freshwater policy, dubbed “rivers”. It includes a charge on water take for irrigation, to fund riparian planting, destocking and compensation in the Waituna lagoon catchment as a priority in post-election talks, and a moratorium on intensification in sensitive areas.
Labour says water quality is critical to our future, supports a resource rental charge, and would implement the freshwater national policy statement as originally drafted.
On conservation, a National-led government would review threatened species management and biodiversity strategies, establishing a biodiversity forum with a focus on pest control.
There is some alignment here with the Greens. The Greens, too, have a threatened species and pest control focus in their conservation policy, and have worked with National on the trials of self-resetting traps.
They would also introduce a Wildlife (Threatened Species Protection) Amendment Bill. The draft needs a lot of work, with which we have been invited to help. It would require recovery plans for all threatened species.
The Greens would increase DOC funding to a baseline of 1% of the annual Budget. Labour notes that core DOC functions and independence are being directly and indirectly threatened and must be maintained.
A policy area where the Greens have been weak from Forest & Bird’s point of view is on 1080. Latest is that they remain opposed to it in front country areas, and say there have been good results with self-setting traps, which make their use viable – therefore, yes to 1080 only as a last resort, and aerial use only in inaccessible places.
UnitedFuture, led by Peter Dunne, is alone in wanting to ban 1080, and responsible for the Game Animal Council Bill – which has nothing to do with conservation despite being introduced in the name of Hon Kate Wilkinson, and all to do with hunting and politics. But in one of UnitedFuture’s few unequivocal answers, they agreed with our policy of “no more dams on wild or braided rivers”.
Labour party policies, too, have been hedged about with some caveats. However, a number of them show the fruits of lobbying by Forest & Bird, including clear undertakings on the Mokihinui and fossil fuel mining. Labour would either direct Meridian Energy not to proceed or decline Mokihinui concessions, and would put a stop to Solid Energy’s lignite proposals – suggesting a wider policy of better enforcing our state-owned enterprises’ social responsibilities under the Act.
Labour would also stop tenure review, and “explore the creation of” a Mackenzie drylands park, to keep the Mackenzie brown.
Finally, a couple of cross-party comparisons, on questions about nature’s place in our lives, and why a vote for their party would be a vote for nature.
On nature’s place in our lives, Labour talked about the important functions of public conservation land. The Green Party said conservation is more than just protecting and setting aside our most valuable ecosystems: it is about bringing nature into our cities and back yards. Mana said people are a part of nature; the two cannot be separated. UnitedFuture considered it important that environmental uses for recreation and economic development are not damaging, but could not “advocate an open-slather approach”.
The Greens said a vote for their party would be a vote for nature because they speak for those who can sing but not speak, and have a record of working with both major parties for conservation gains.
Labour talked about the intrinsic as well as economic value of our natural heritage, and Labour’s proud conservation record, including establishing DOC and the Conservation Act in 1987. Labour would also start an immediate review of stewardship land, to get it out of limbo, and finish the work that they started 25 years ago.
Mana said we are all part of an ecosystem, and must do much more to help it.
For United Future a vision for nature was about New Zealanders’ outdoor lifestyle and interactions with the environment, which we all have a birthright to enjoy.
However, as with half a dozen of UnitedFuture’s other answers, it had to be “CUT – ANSWER TOO LONG”.