Matthew Backhouse

Matthew Backhouse is a journalist based in Auckland.

Prime Minister defends DoC job cuts

Photo / Lynda Feringa
Photo / Lynda Feringa

Expected job losses at the Department of Conservation are not expected to cut too deep into frontline positions, Prime Minister John Key says.

The department is expected to announce 100 job losses tomorrow when it releases its proposed restructuring plan at midday.

Forest & Bird advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell said the cuts were expected to be significant, with frontline conservation staff to be laid off in favour of recruiting volunteers.

"Low numbers of people do not mean low numbers of possums, stoats and rats - quite the opposite. There's no substitute for on-the-spot work by a paid and highly skilled staff member based in a remote but critical part of the country.''

Mr Hackwell said the Government was putting "huge pressure'' on DoC to cut costs, and the department's response would significantly undermine both its professional capacity and its ability to deliver good conservation management.

DOC's operating budget for the last financial year was $335 million, which was $25m less than in 2008.

"The price of constantly undermining DOC will be high indeed for our native plants and animals, and for generations of New Zealanders to come.''

But speaking at his regular post-Cabinet press conference, Mr Key said said he had been briefed and the job losses would not be largely characterised as those from front-line positions.

Mr Key said he always worried when someone lost their job. "There are still steps ahead to do the best they can for the people at DoC.''

He did not believed the cuts would affect threatened species or impact on tourism.

The Green Party said the job cuts would do both - putting wildlife at risk and undermining New Zealand's 100% pure brand.

Greens' conservation spokeswoman Eugenie Sage said they would be an additional blow to the department.

Some 96 positions were cut in the last restructuring in 2012 and the latest round would leave DoC without the expertise it needed.

"The ongoing job losses follow a $54 million cut in the department's budget in 2009, and further funding pressure because of Government's singular focus on reducing spending.

"DoC manages more than a third of the land in New Zealand. Sixty per cent of New Zealanders consider conservation to be as important as education, health, and law and order.''

DoC has 1807 permanent positions and a spokesman said that in the last two years 120 jobs had been lost through reviews of the national office and regional administrative systems.

- APNZ

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