Matthew Backhouse

Matthew Backhouse is a journalist based in Auckland.

DoC announces 140 jobs to be axed

Director-General of Conservation Al Morrison, making the announcements today. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Director-General of Conservation Al Morrison, making the announcements today. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The Department of Conservation will axe 140 jobs and reduce the number of conservancy regions in a department-wide shake-up.

Director-General of Conservation Al Morrison announced the cuts this afternoon after the proposals were put to staff around the country this morning.

The cuts include 118 regional management and administrative roles, as well as 22 operational roles including asset management, planning and inspection positions.

Mr Morrison said DoC would disestablish its existing 11 regional conservancy boundaries and replace them with six new regions.

It would also create two new groups to deal with field work and external relations.

The Conservation Services Group would focus on DoC's recreational and natural heritage field work, while the Conservation Partnerships Group would work with iwi, local authorities, private landowners and businesses to attract more conservation resources.

Mr Morrison said the new structure would maintain DoC's own conservation work while setting up the department to work more effectively with external partners.

"DoC must adapt if it is going to meet the conservation challenges that New Zealand faces - even if you doubled DOC's budget tomorrow we would still be going ahead with this proposal," Mr Morrison said.

DoC would continue to deliver it operational work through its existing network of about 100 offices and locations throughout the country.

Mr Morrison said no offices would be shut and DoC would continue to operate with more than 1200 staff.

He said new support hubs for activities such as asset management, inspections and work planning would deliver efficiencies which would allow cuts to 22 operational roles.

The department has put a freeze on hiring new staff and was currently holding about 160 positions which were filled with temporary staff.

The proposal would ensure DoC met its $8.7 million savings target.

Mr Morrison said the department had begun consulting with staff on the proposals and no final decisions would be made until feedback had been considered.

Any changes would not take effect for some months.

"I acknowledge this will mean a difficult period for many staff and we will be making every effort to ease the impact of these proposals," he said.

"It is simply too early to say what impact these proposals will have on individuals - we will look at all options such as redeployment and relocation to minimise redundancies."

Today's cuts come after the Government cut $54m from DoC's budget in 2009.

Earlier, Prime Minister John Key said the Department of Conservation was heavy on middle management and today's staff cuts would ensure resources were directed in the right place.

Mr Key yesterday said the job losses would not be largely characterised as frontline positions.

He told TV3's Firstline this morning there had been a big build-up of middle management and bureaucracy at DoC under the Labor government.

"And in the leaner, harder times where the Government doesn't have a lot of money to throw around, we don't have that much money to do that," he said.

"We expect these agencies to operate in a more efficient and effective way."

Mr Key said DoC's managers had a responsibility to make sure resources were directed in the right place because they were spending taxpayer money.

"And that's what you're going to see today. This Government has been a government which certainly has cut management and bureaucracy, but we've also vastly increased the numbers in frontline services."

Mr Key did not believe the cuts would affect threatened species or have an impact on tourism.

Green Party conservation spokeswoman Eugenie Sage said today's cuts would put precious plants, wildlife and landscapes at risk.

She said the department had cut 265 jobs under National, with 96 positions axed when support services were centralised last year.

Today's cuts come after the Government cut $54 million from DoC's budget in 2009.

Ms Sage said there had also been an effective $8m cut because baseline funding has not increased with inflation.

She said the restructuring would reduce the department's capacity to do effective conservation work on the ground.

"With the Department already pared to the bone these latest cuts will mean less protection of our special native plants and wildlife," she said.

"DoC manages more than a third of the land in New Zealand and the argument that volunteers and a few corporate sponsors will fill in the gaping hole these cuts and continued pressure on department spending create is nonsense."

- APNZ

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