Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Conservation Minister backs pollution

Lake Ellesmere / Te Waihora is New Zealand's fourth largest lake. Its also our second most polluted, with dairy runoff from adjacent farms turning it into a giant effluent pond unsafe for swimming or fishing. The Department of Conservation, which is responsible for managing the lake under the Conservation Act 1987 and Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998, has been trying to clean it up. One of their methods of doing so is by reducing direct pollution by refusing to renew grazing licences on conservation land adjacent to the lake.

Unfortunately, their Minister won't let them. Documents released under the Official Information Act to The Press show that Minister of Conservation Kate Wilkinson overruled her department last year to force the renewal of the last adjacent grazing licence - in other words, to allow pollution to continue:

[Barry] Clark, whose family had grazed the land for more than a century, said he was advised early in 2010 by DOC that his lease would expire in June and he was asked to reapply – which gave him the impression that a "renewal was available". DOC's decision not to renew the licence was overturned at a meeting in August involving Canterbury-based ministers Wilkinson and Carter, Clark and Mahaanui area manager Bryan Jensen, and a five-year extension was approved.

Extending the lease contravened DOC's policy of removing grazing from the lake edge to protect the environment and upset some DOC staff.

It also contradicted what Clark was told by the department in 2004 – that the next five-year term of his lease would be his last.

Wilkinson's reason? Given the amount of pollution, another five years wouldn't matter. It's an extraordinary approach to take on the issue, and one which directly contravenes the conservation values she is supposed to be an advocate for. It also contravenes the consultation requirements of the Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act. But National clearly views the government keeping its word on a Treaty settlement as less important than allowing a wealthy constituent to continue to make money by expropriating and polluting public space.

This also shows that Wilkinson is totally unsuitable for her portfolio. Here's a hint: the Minister of Conservation's job is to conserve. If Wilkinson is unwilling to do that, she should resign and give the job to someone who is. But how many of them are there in the National Party anymore?