Linley Boniface’s column in the Dompost is usually a boring diary of domestic life but when she bothers to write something on a topic worthy of a major daily newspaper, boy can she get it on the money:
Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O’Reilly is urging us all to consider whether we are getting our money’s worth from our conservation estate. DOC’s decision to set up a commercial business unit to identify possible revenue-generating schemes after its latest $13.5 million budget cut would, he said, help with “unlocking the true value” of our national parks…
…You might never have stopped to consider the value of our national parks before. Or you might have operated on the apparently naive assumption that their value is to do with – oh, I don’t know – mountains and rivers and trees and birds and insects and stuff like that.
You might also have assumed that the 1.5 million New Zealanders who visited conservation areas last year didn’t stop at some point in the middle of their tramp or kayaking trip or picnic or swim and say: “Hang on – what’s it all about? Am I getting enough value from my experience? Is this all, perhaps, a meaningless sham?”
Mr O’Reilly is a charming, savvy, well-connected jazz buff who lobbies so tirelessly for the rights of businesspeople that it sometimes seems to blind him to the legitimate concerns of anyone else, whether they’re workers or wekas. To suggest that the world’s last few remaining areas of wilderness have no intrinsic worth, and should be judged only in terms of their ability to generate business opportunities, is a notion that is both repellent and outdated.
But at least Mr O’Reilly is upfront about his views, which is more than you can say for the way Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee has pitched plans to review the ban on mining in schedule 4 areas – some of the most sensitive parts of the conservation estate. The Government has shown a singular lack of transparency about its intentions, preferring to soften us up with vague references to “unlocking the potential” of wilderness areas….
… Doug Gordon, chief executive of the Minerals Industry Association, summed up the slipperiness of the current approach to mining in an interview with Paul Holmes last week. “We’re not suggesting we roll back schedule 4,” he huffed. “We’re suggesting that we find out what is beneath those lands in terms of minerals.” In other words: just because I have my hand on this chocolate doesn’t mean I have any intention of eating it.
An opinion piece in The Guardian – one of several recent articles hostile to New Zealand’s environmental record – pointed out that our marketing strategy is underpinned by a survey saying tourism could be reduced by 68 per cent if we lost our clean green image, and that overseas markets for our dairy products could halve. Even if you can’t accept that national parks have an inherent value of their own, there’s a strong argument to be made for preserving them on economic grounds.
Of course, the Government’s standard counter-argument to this is that Australia has grown fat on the back of its mineral wealth. Just over a year ago, I went on a press trip to visit some of Australia’s most successful vineyards. What most surprised me was that the senior wine industry figures I met were most passionate when they were talking not about wine, but about the eco- friendly innovations that they had developed in their vineyards.
Why? Because Australia’s history of remorseless exploitation of the land and its waterways has put the future of the wine industry at risk. Those winemakers had learnt the hard way that, if you screw with the environment, it will come back to screw with you.