Friday, May 26, 2023

Thomas Cranmer: Department of Conservation Hit By Funding Crisis

Alarm bells have been rung by the department after its Deputy Director-General for Operations warns, 'the initial view shows that we do not have sufficient funding to cover our basic running costs'.

Following last week’s budget, alarm bells have been rung by the Department of Conservation. Just after 5pm on Wednesday, Deputy Director-General for Operations, Mike Tully, sent an email to senior staff advising them of discussions that took place on Monday with the senior leadership team relating to the 2023/24 financial baseline information for the department.

In the leaked email Tully stated, “In summary, it did not paint the desired picture we might have hoped for. To be transparent, the initial view shows that we do not have sufficient funding to cover our basic running costs.”

“There is now alot of urgent work underway to seek clarity on our position,” he wrote.

The immediate effect, as set out in the email, is the introduction of a hiring freeze and a review by Deputy Director-Generals in the department to identify, “how fixed operating cost commitments fit within available funding before budget envelopes are confirmed”.

The department is known to have been chronically underfunded for years but it has now reached crisis point as the government has required DoC to deliver on an increasing number of core programmes and take responsibility for the maintenance of a third of New Zealand’s total land, whilst not matching the annual increases in wages and inflation.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Minister of Conservation, Willow-Jean Prime are understood to have been aware of the situation before the Budget was finalised but would not support any substantial cost pressure funding, instead telling the department to find savings from the baseline.

Some within the department are also critical of the Chief Executive, Penny Nelson, for not addressing the impending crisis sooner - for instance, by managing a gradual reduction in staffing levels over the last two years through natural attrition and reduced hiring. As it stands, there is now an expectation within the department of significant job cuts over the next few months.

Jobs for Nature is unaffected by this current squeeze as its funding is ring-fenced. The controversial programme is described by the government as a $1.2 billion programme that manages funding across multiple government agencies, including the Department of Conservation, to benefit the environment, people and the regions. It is part of the Covid-19 recovery package. The programme was created in 2020 and is intended to run for four years.

However, in August 2021, ACT conservation spokeswoman Nicole McKee, described the programme as ridiculous. Budget documents showed a Jobs for Nature programme to carry out pest control of wallabies was costing $685,000 per person employed.

“ACT values the work that hunters and trappers are doing for conservation in New Zealand but the way these programmes are set up are expensive failures.

“At a time when debt has ballooned Labour is happy to throw around taxpayers’ money without a care for the value it gets, or the impact on future generations.

“It’s time to give up on these expensive programmes and start spending taxpayers’ money more responsibly,” McKee told Stuff.

It is understood that, in the context of the current funding crisis, Ministers have refused to approve the reallocation of Jobs for Nature funding to core conservation work.

It has led to the perception amongst some within the department that the government is hostile towards it. And one doesn’t need to look far for evidence that lends some support to that sentiment.

In a NZ Herald article in February, Audrey Young wrote, “Māori hate the Department of Conservation, MPs on the Māori affairs select committee were told this morning by former Conservation Minister Poto Williams.

She said that was what she had been told by Māori Crown Relations Minister Kelvin Davis last year when she was first appointed minister in charge of the Department of Conservation.

“One of the first things that Minister Davis said to me was that Māori hate DoC,” she told the committee.

“‘They have a really poor relationship with the department so good luck to you sister,” he had said.

Davis explained that he had been asking Māori what their concerns were in their relationship with the Crown.

“And if DoC wasn’t mentioned as the first problem, they were the second,” Davis said. “People would say they had no trust in DoC, they think they own all our land. That was the context.”

The Department of Conservation and Minister Prime’s office were contacted for comment yesterday afternoon but could not respond before publication. I will update this article when I have received their responses.

Thomas Cranmer, Lawyer with over 25 years experience in some of the world's biggest law firms. This article was published HERE


Anna Mouse said...

Welcome to the failed, once known as the first world oldest liberal democracy nation named New Zealand.

Now known as the third world, neo-marxist, ethnocentric apartheid nation name Aotearoa (or what ever).

God needed to defend New Zealand or someone had too because this Labour regime sure as heck didn't.

DeeM said...

A place to start would be getting rid of all their Deputy positions and making the real people do their jobs. That would save millions in salaries and office space. Government departments are always way overloaded at the top end with bods who attend meetings and contribute little, if anything, on the ground, but draw huge salaries at the taxpayers expense.

Maybe this racist, Maori-obsessed government is setting DoC up to fail so that they can justify handing everything over to iwi to (mis)manage instead.
Let's face it, if there's one thing, and only one thing, they're any good at it's failure so this should be easy for them.

Anonymous said...

Yes, all by design to hand crown land over to the Maori Mafia. Another bloodless coup!

CXH said...

Surely no one is surprised.

Step one - underfund DoC so they can not preform the government demand services.

Step two - disband DoC for underperforming.

Step three - hand over all DoC land to the relevant iwi. Included a vastly expanded budget for new Teslas for the boys at the top.

Anna Mouse said...

Dee, that is exactly what it looks like from the outside looking in.

Anonymous said...

There goes the protection for the native birds which will be eaten for ‘cultural’ reasons and their feathers - which look perfectly good on the birds- will become cloaks for pretentious people.

JamesA said...

DOC workers tell me the regional offices are now managed by untrained bureaucrats who appear more interested in having their workforce sit at desks writing endless reports and budgets rather than actually getting out and doing the job they are trained for.