Russell Marshall’s Column

Russell Marshall

First Conservation Minister — ‘NZ near bottom of the class’ on climate change

By Russell Marshall
(NZs 1st Minister of Conservation)

What has been a memorably good summer has gradually become a problem, not only for farmers but increasingly for urban water supply.

It may also be an indication of what further global warming could mean for New Zealand and its people, in a variety of respects.

It comes also at a time when our policy makers and others seem to be going backwards on a range of environment related policy issues.1986: Founding of DoC

Major organisational change in the latter 1986 gave us the Ministry for the Environment, the Department of Conservation, and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) was seriously understaffed and under resourced from its beginning.

A structure established in good faith by the team working on the establishment was shot from behind late in the piece by a major reduction in establishment staff numbers.

It was intended that all the human resources previously involved in government agencies in conservation activity would to transfer to the new department.

Political neglect continues

In the event, only full time positions were retained, a decline of between a quarter and a third of previous intended capacity.  Political neglect has continued for much of the quarter century since.

Despite the increase in public awareness and concern for a range of environmental issues in this country as elsewhere, New Zealand’s current political leaders are turning our back on what are now very pressing environmental issues, local and international.

Where once we were seen as an international leader on climate change policy, we are now defiantly near the bottom of the class of developed countries.

In a recent issue Sunday Star Times column, Rod Oram spelled out clearly the travesty taking place with the rewriting and gutting of the Resource Management Act, passed eventually by a previous National government two decades ago.

‘Cannot sign international convention’

Apparently we cannot sign a new international convention forbidding exploitation of deep sea minerals because we have already granted licences to do so. The government would dearly like to mine our national parks as well if such action could be legitimised.

I believe that we are now seriously at risk of further physically damaging the country today’s population inherited.

We may not be able to so anything of consequence to reduce global warming but we could lead by example, as we have in other fields.

However, we could do something to save and restore what was originally here, and we owe that to all those who will follows us. Government are elected to do more than stay in office and play to populism.

(Editor’s note: Russell Marshall was the first Minister of Conservation in the Labour Government, 1986-87)