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Cuts that could kill

Written By: - Date published: 7:55 am, April 26th, 2013 - 47 comments
Categories: accountability, Conservation, disaster - Tags: , , , , ,

Time after time after time we have seen variations on the same theme – without competent regulation things go wrong. It doesn’t matter whether the lack of regulation comes about as a result of specific policy decisions or of lack of resources to do a job properly, the end result is the same, an increased probability of disaster.

Take the global financial crisis caused by the consequences of the deregulation of the financial sector (explained here by Elizabeth Warren). Take the leaky homes crisis brought to us by a National government’s deregulation of the building industry. Take our failed and extortionate electricity “market”, brought to us by a National government’s deregulation of the electricity industry. Take the under-resourcing that leads to a lack of effective oversight and gave us (in various contexts) disasters at Cave Creek, the Pike River Mine, and the CTV building in Christchurch.

And still the lesson isn’t learned – this time it will be fine, right? The Nats are cutting DOC to the bone:

DoC staff worried cuts may lead to another disaster

A leaked document from the Department of Conservation shows staff are worried restructuring and job losses could lead to another disaster like Cave Creek.

Thirteen teenagers and one DoC staff member were killed when a DoC viewing platform at Cave Creek near Punakaiki on the West Coast collapsed in 1995.

The department says it has received more than 1000 submissions from staff about its plan to restructure, cut 140 jobs and merge its 11 conservancies into six to meet an $8.7 million savings target.

A report obtained by Radio New Zealand sent from DoC’s head office to staff says in those submissions a large number of staff raised concerns about the proposals.

It says the biggest worry is there will not be clear accountability under the new model that could lead to another Cave Creek.
However, the report says a huge amount has changed since that disaster and lessons about accountability will not be lost.

DOC staff have given their warning. (The outgoing DOC Director General – hmmmm – will be behind the reassuring official position of the report, but he isn’t going to be there to see it through is he.) Labour and the Greens have given their warnings. All of which will go unheeded by the Nats. And one day these cuts could kill.

47 comments on “Cuts that could kill”

  1. Ad 1

    At this level of funding it’s tempting to ask why not outsource the entire Department to Fish and Game, Maori, tramping clubs and Forest and Bird. DoC is just becoming a clearing-house for service contracts.

    Outsourcing is corrosive, both in sustaining service levels and in democratic accountability. Some local governments understand this (like Auckland and Queenstown Lakes), and are rapidly pulling things in-house. I think there’s a general principle there about aggregating all services inwards, into fully accountable Departments. Old School.

    I am always stunned by the professionalism of DoC staff at any of the major huts; they are true ambassadors for public service generally. Plus they always look so ridiculously fit and healthy, and some like Aspiring Hut get to helicopter in to work, and then live there for months.

    • The really ridiculous thing is that the cuts to DOC are directly related to Key’s increase in tourism funding of $158m. He wants to attract more and more people to witness our natural beauty but will be spending less and less on preserving it. Typical merchant banker behavior.

      • Draco T Bastard 1.1.1

        And cutting the policies that help preserve it as well so that a few people can make more nothing money.

      • Murray Olsen 1.1.2

        I noticed what Key said about his high end tourists. He means business conferences, to fill the convention centres. These will be the same people who think strip mining, fracking, and offshore drilling are great ideas. Their idea of natural beauty probably doesn’t go much further than a naked hooker. It’s ridiculous, but consistent.

  2. Richard 2

    So now we know why Al Morrison was so enthusiastic about gutting DOC – he was to be rewarded with a big fat promotion. Talk about selling your soul.

    • Colonial Viper 2.1

      Tory Govts are good employers like this, if you do the dirty jobs they ask, you get properly recognised for your time, energy and effort.

      • Mary 2.1.1

        Watching him squirm trying to answer some of the questions around the cuts a few weeks back was interesting. Listening to some of the commentators after that, though, anyone would think he pulled it off. But I thought he came across as not believing what he was saying, contradicted himself a number of times, and got angry at interviewers who questioned what he was saying. This often happens, of course, when someone’s trying to defend the indefensible, as was clearly the case here. What was especially interesting, though, was Morrison’s aggression. He’s always been an angry little bugger, even as far back as when he was at the Evening Post. At least then he could say he was doing his job – often directing that anger at government, but even back then I always thought there was something not quite right about him, which for me has been borne out in his poacher-turned-gamekeeper behaviour. The shit he was talking when defending the decimation of DoC really was quite staggering. Now we can look forward to same sort of shit coming out of what’s supposed to be one of the prime pillars of independence within the public service. Heaven help us.

        • just saying 2.1.1.1

          Yes Al’s spin in the media was quite breathtaking: slashing funding to DOC and firing large numbers of its workforce was actually a good thing because it “allowed” vounteers and the private sector to take up their place in protecting our flora and fauna. DOC bringing fewer and fewer challenges on behalf of the environment at the environment court was good because they could be more focussed on the few challeneges they did take, etc…..

          That man will go far……

    • Jono 2.2

      My partner read his email to DOC staff to me last night. Talk about a rat leaving a sinking ship. He could have stayed on to bury the corpse (excuse the mixed metaphors). You are right about the executioners being rewarded handsomely though. Make the right moves on a review panel even as a lowly ranger and you will end up being on all the subsequent panels and keep getting promotions.

    • Draco T Bastard 2.3

      Yep, on Planet Key when you help the rich get richer by screwing over everybody else you certainly get well rewarded.

    • weka 2.4

      Al Morrison is one of NZ’s premier traitors.

  3. Paul 3

    Now I know that the Labour Party does not read blogs, so maybe if the Green Party read this, they have the narrative that will win the election for the left.

    There are enough people affected by the deregulation of our country, who once they see the narrative and can join the dots between all the disasters afflicting our country, will stop listening to the ‘nanny state’ spin of the right and indeed welcome a caring and sharing society…even if it means more rules and more tax.

    Deregulation does not work in people’s interests.
    I’m sure there’s a PR person who can turn this issue into a catchy phrase. Here’s my idea….

    Domestic electricity customers can see what happens when deregulation occurs
    Can you?

    The people of Christchurch can see what happens when deregulation occurs
    Can you?

    The miners of the west coast can see what happens when deregulation occurs
    Can you?

    The owners of leaky homes can see what happens when deregulation occurs
    Can you?

    • Colonial Viper 3.1

      Deregulation is an awful word to try and base a campaign on (5 syllables and a tongue twister to boot)

      Much simpler:

      Free market failure.

      • Mary 3.1.1

        “Free market failure” to me allows the right to cash in on the “North Korean economics” rubbish. Nobody wants to oppose “freedom”. I think we need to describe what makes electricity and other essential services different. At the moment Joyce, Key et al are getting mileage out of the “what’s next”? question, which the Left needs to halt by making clear why it’s important that essential services should not be put out to private, often overseas interests to make unconscionable profits. The message needs to be what makes essential services different, otherwise the Joyce/Key PR machine will continue to control of the battle of ideas. This has always been a weakness in the Left – never really disciplined enough to ensure clear and unbroken lines of communication.

        • Colonial Viper 3.1.1.1

          In fact, I want to see National continue their lines about North Korea, Soviet Union, Zimbabwe, etc. The more the better.

          Nobody wants to oppose “freedom”.

          The line here is “Freedom but only for the Rich”.

          However that is starting to engage in overt class warfare and Labour has no interest in that.

          • Mary 3.1.1.1.1

            “Freedom but only for the Rich”

            Yes, that’s very good. Highlights the hypocrisy.

            Don’t know about the North Korea, Labour commies stuff. I think it can be too alluring even for the poor.

        • Draco T Bastard 3.1.1.2

          I think we need to describe what makes electricity and other essential services different.

          /agreed

          Have to phrase it that us having ownership of these essential services with democratic control of them maintains our freedom while selling them makes us serfs to the new owners.

        • Bill 3.1.1.3

          My wee (clunky) contribution on producing catch phrases…..

          “Our choice: essential theft versus essential services.”

          ” Electricity for us versus foreign holidays for them.”

          “Jobs for a life versus our life for a job.”

          “Our democracy versus their tyranny.”

          “Dry homes for us versus dripping in profits for them.”

          • ghostrider888 3.1.1.3.1

            Dry homes…

          • Draco T Bastard 3.1.1.3.2

            “Jobs for a life versus our life for a job.”
            Seen the latest BNZ advertising on the billboards? It’s got two options on it:

            Choose Kiwisaver
            Choose to work til you die

            Really gives me the desire to get active in graffiti and add:

            Choose a better socio-economic system

            These psychopaths in the banks really do want to remove the possibility of retirement for the majority of people.

      • red rattler 3.1.2

        My pick is the word that stumblebum stumbled over “super-profits”.

    • Antonina 3.2

      I think Grant Robertson is having difficulty seeing this – see his assurance that there is no thought of further intervention to assist the people of NZ.

      • Bill 3.2.1

        I think Grant Robertson is having difficulty seeing this –

        I think Robertson sees it clearly enough. But then, I also think Robertson is essentially a neo-lib alongside the likes of Goff, King, Mallard et al. Them’s wants to be in control of what is and do not want to challenge or change the status quo in any meaningful way.

      • Elizabeth Bourchier 3.2.2

        Darling, Grant only sees one thing.
        Every morsel of his body is about becoming PM.
        There is no manoeuvre he will not undertake to get to that end.

        His “boss” Shearer is overseas so he is trying out the Labour Leader role.
        He over-reaches, let us say kindly.

        The concept of being or not being neo-liberal does not come into it. He will say whatever works for him with the Press Gallery.
        He doesn’t even dress to the left!

        • farmboy 3.2.2.1

          new zealand is along way off electing a gay p.m if you think they would then you dont know new zealanders very well to much time at those fancy cafe’s in auckland me thinks

          • Murray Olsen 3.2.2.1.1

            Get back behind the shearing shed and remember it’s only gay if you use lube. Life was so much simpler before them fancy cafes, when men were men, gays were for bashing, and sheep were for shagging. Now try to get off that socialist irrigation. Just say no. Stand on your own feet, all four of them.

  4. Peter 4

    I’m still waiting to see the promise from Labour to restore the Department of Conservation to full strength.

    And yeah, these cuts may cause another failure of systems that led to Cave Creek, but they are far more likely to cause other deaths – that of native species, and unlike humans, these are at far more risk of extinction.

    • Paul 4.1

      Sounds a bit North Korean to me.

    • NZ Femme 4.2

      @ Peter

      Was curious about that myself, so had a look at Labour’s revised policy platform, currently in draft form:

      “…Conservation Estate – Labour led the world in 1987 by establishing the Department of Conservation (DOC) as an agency dedicated to the protection of our natural environment, as well as to providing opportunities for Kiwis to enjoy the great outdoors. Labour upholds the values and aspirations that support conservation and biodiversity protection. The focus on endangered species will be maintained. Accompanying this is the need for first-class biosecurity systems to keep pests and diseases out of New Zealand and protect our country from environmental and economic damage.

      The advocacy responsibility of both the Minister and the Department will be restored, with the Minister of Conservation having the decision making role restored in matters affecting the Conservation Estate.

      Restrictions on commercial activity on the Conservation estate, and in particular mining, will be clarified with stronger protection of areas with important conservation values. Labour will strengthen protection for wild rivers.

      Labour will work in partnership with supporters of that conservation work but will ensure that conservation work is not dependent on commercial patronage…”

      Click to access Revised%20Policy%20Platform%20Version%20-%2026%20%203%2013.pdf

      • Peter 4.2.1

        He he, well done.

        If I am to paraphrase this with National’s current policy, I get the following:

        The focus on endangered species will be maintained. Accompanying this is the need for first-class biosecurity systems to keep pests and diseases out of New Zealand and protect our country from environmental and economic damage.
        – so, no increase for endangered species, maybe an improvement for biosecurity at the border

        The advocacy responsibility of both the Minister and the Department will be restored, with the Minister of Conservation having the decision making role restored in matters affecting the Conservation Estate.
        – This is poorly worded, the advocacy responsibilities of DOC under the Conservation Act have never been removed, they’ve just had their budgets slashed. So, you can’t restore a function that still exists. Labour need to increase funding. They could however fix it up on mining, returning access right granting privileges solely to the Minister.

        Restrictions on commercial activity on the Conservation estate, and in particular mining, will be clarified with stronger protection of areas with important conservation values. Labour will strengthen protection for wild rivers.
        -Believe it or not, this is actually National’s justification for the Crown Minerals Act changes – stronger protection for high value areas, no protection for the rest. The wild rivers stuff is excellent, however, no further protection is needed, people just need resourcing to get Water Conservation Orders on wild rivers.

        Labour will work in partnership with supporters of that conservation work but will ensure that conservation work is not dependent on commercial patronage…”
        – A hint, maybe, of a small funding increase.

        So, sadly, nothing earth shattering.

        • NZ Femme 4.2.1.1

          Awesome parsing! Helpful for someone like me who’s going, “ok, sounds good, but what does it actually mean?”

          I think it’s an important discussion to be had, right now, while still in draft form, especially with input to be had by LP members at upcoming conferences. (am not a member BTW)

          Cheers

          • Richard 4.2.1.1.1

            It is significant that Labour states the advocacy role will be restored. I see it not so much a matter of taking away funding for advocacy, but the fact that National has gagged Doc staff in advocating for conservation. I don’t think it requires big bucks for DOC area offices to identify what needs protecting. The dollars are needed further down the track when an action has been agreed on.
            But first you have to allow Doc staff to voice their opinions. National have used the fear of review and redundancy to gag staff.

            • NZ Femme 4.2.1.1.1.1

              And with 140 less voices to gag, the remaining demoralized workforce will have to yell that much harder for fewer financial resources to advocate with, if they can summon the will.

              When I lived in Northland in the 90’s, the DOC workers in my circle were some of the most passionate, knowledgeable and staunch advocates for the environment I’d met. I still have fond memories of being taken to a kokako breeding program at Waipoa Forest, and hand feeding a chick with a kokako hand puppet with a syringe attached. Magical stuff.

              You’re right I think, the current 11 conservancy’s are likely well aware of what their area’s need in terms of protection. Reducing those conservancy areas to 6, and with 140 jobs to disappear under National, I’m not sure that it will be as easy to identify and implement those protections in the future.

          • Peter 4.2.1.1.2

            I work in conservation advocacy, and yeah, for every DOC regional staff member that gets cut, my daily job gets tougher.

            • ghostrider888 4.2.1.1.2.1

              funding unlikely to increase. (thanks for the breakdown Peter) the lay of the land was in the initial defense made of the restructuring.

  5. weka 5

    “Take the under-resourcing that leads to a lack of effective oversight and gave us (in various contexts) disasters at Cave Creek, the Pike River Mine, and the CTV building in Christchurch.”

    I’m not sure Cave Creek is a simple as that. It was more the convergence of kiwi DIY, #8 wire ingenuity, and the push for the tourism dollar (and IMO marks the beginning of the end of self-sufficient NZ, and is a key point in the ceding of DOC to corporate imperatives). Remember, this was a new viewing platform, constructed as part of the shift within DOC from conservation to tourism revenue. It wasn’t necessary for DOC’s core responsibilities, why was it being built in the first place?

    We’ve come a long way down a very bad path since then, and while I agree that the current staff cuts to DOC are bad, there are worse things going on in that Dept, to do with the culture and what DOC’s roles are. As usual, the sleepy hobbits are not too bothered.

    • Peter 5.1

      Not really actually. I know of many DIY structures in the backcountry that have held up far longer than Cave Creek, and some are still there, hidden away…

      What caused the fatalities at Cave Creek was a combination of cutbacks and neoliberal-style management structures that resulted in a lack of communication between the builders of the thing (the foundations and the structure were built by separate contractors, in true Taylorist style), and then never connected. The platform itself was damned solid, and was still reasonably intact even on the bottom of the gorge – it just wasn’t connected to its foundations by anything more than a few nails.

      Naturally, the response after Cave Creek (and this risk-aversion is still very much alive and well within DOC today) focused more on structures that could be deemed unsafe, rather than on the nutty outsourcing culture that led to the event causing, and the New Zealand backcountry lost a lot of facilities.

      • weka 5.1.1

        “Not really actually. I know of many DIY structures in the backcountry that have held up far longer than Cave Creek, and some are still there, hidden away…”

        Me too. Which is part of my point. Prior to that time, people either had the knowledge and skill or they didn’t try and make something so far beyond their level of expertise.

        “The platform itself was damned solid, and was still reasonably intact even on the bottom of the gorge – it just wasn’t connected to its foundations by anything more than a few nails.”

        That was my understanding as well. So why were people trying to install something so far beyond their knowledge and skill?

        Why was DOC trying to built such a technically difficult structure in the first place?

        • Peter 5.1.1.1

          I think the issue here was that due to the quasi-competitive system they had in place for the contracts, that one contractor was not allowed to talk to the other about where the two projects met – at the foundations!

          Instead, this communication was to take place through DOC, which due to staff cuts, never happened.

  6. DH 6

    Well I don’t know much about DOCs operations but I’ve had a peek at their 2012 annual report

    Wages bill $131,676,000

    1101 full time frontline staff
    538 full time back office staff
    211 temporary staff (full time equivalents)

    Total FTE staff 1850

    Average wage $71,176 (plus a few extra perks not counted here)

    Nice for some. I’ve often heard that the typical coal-face DOC worker gets paid bugger all and if so some are creaming it there.

    Cutting 140 jobs would be $11.12 million in total wage costs saved if they cut right across the board proportionately up to senior managers. They say the savings target is $8.7 million which includes more than just wages so it looks like they’re going to arsehole the lower-paid staff who do all the work and keep the fatcats on their gravy train.

    • NZ Femme 6.1

      “…Cutting 140 jobs would be $11.12 million in total wage costs saved if they cut right across the board proportionately up to senior managers. They say the savings target is $8.7 million which includes more than just wages so it looks like they’re going to arsehole the lower-paid staff who do all the work and keep the fatcats on their gravy train…”

      By reducing the conservancy areas from 11 to 6, there must be a few fatcat gravy trainers going though.

      I’m concerned about the loss of intimate working knowledge of each current local conservancy disappearing with the job losses. Particularly with the merging of conservancy areas.

    • ghostrider888 6.2

      won’t be replacing many back office staff with volunteers and community groups (maybe some corporate partners though).

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