Sunday, February 17, 2013

National Park or National Disgrace!


The Save Manapouri campaign (1959-1972) was probably the first major environmental campaign that New Zealand experienced. It was essentially a protest about the destruction of one of our most beautiful  lakes through raising the water level by 30 metres to support a power station. The campaign was successful in saving the natural beauty of the lake but the power station went ahead and the Waiau River lost much of its flow.

Under this National led Government we have seen a return to the destructive environmental policies of yesteryear and a responding resurgence of environmental activism. While our lowland rivers are under attack from intensive farming, most New Zealanders feel proud that our remaining wild places still appear to be untouched by human interference and provide the images that support our clean green brand. This was most noticeably realised when thousands marched across the country to protest about the Government's intention to open up our most protected areas for mining.


While the Government have now excluded schedule 4 land from exploration and mining they are attempting to open all other conservation areas. They have changed the purpose of DoC from a primarily conservation role to encouraging the commercial use of the conservation estate. Many people don't realize that the Conservation Minister (Dr Nick Smith) now has to work with the Minister of Energy and Resources (Simon Bridges) regarding the extraction of minerals in our conservation areas and conservation is regarded as a minor portfolio in their caucus. Also proposed changes to legislation will potentially allow the government to change the status of schedule 4 land and therefore remove any previous protections. If this National led Government don't get their own way through more obvious means they always have a backdoor approach to advance unpopular policies.

Saving the Denniston Plateau from opencast coal mining is the current focus for those who wish to protect our remaining natural areas but there are other plans in process that have largely slipped under the radar. The proposed Fiordland tunnel and monorail will impact hugely on our World Heritage park if they are allowed to go ahead and a strong campaign (Save Fiordland) has already been launched to stop these private schemes on public land.

Green Party MP, Eugenie Sage, has been actively supporting the Save Fiordland campaign to the extent that she has walked the route of the proposed monorail and has helped make an excellent Green Party Video to highlight the issues of the Tunnel. These schemes will create a worrying precedent if they are successful because they will remove the status of DoCs management plans when future commercial schemes in our parks are being considered. In the past these management plans could not be ignored and there is now the potential to make them aspirational only and very contestable.

For something as important as this it is interesting that Labour has been largely absent from the issue and the Blue Greens have turned a blind eye. It is only the Green Party that has drawn a line in the sand and Eugenie Sage is standing firmly on it.


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