Battle over kauri cash

By Kathryn Powley

Department takes charity money as questions raised over who will lead the fight against kauri dieback

Will Ngakuru with young, dying kauri trees at Waipoua Forest. Photo / Malcolm Pullman
Will Ngakuru with young, dying kauri trees at Waipoua Forest. Photo / Malcolm Pullman

One of New Zealand's largest government departments has taken a $30,000 donation from a charity to help save kauri trees from extinction.

It has sparked fears the Ministry of Primary Industries is backing away from its leadership role in the fight against kauri dieback disease.

Documents obtained under the Official Information Act show the deal with the charity comes as the ministry decides not to seek any more extra funding to fight dieback and says it wants to "transition to a national co-ordination approach" from next year.

The Tindall Foundation, set up by The Warehouse founder Stephen Tindall, confirms it has provided $30,000 and may stump up more.

Waipoua iwi Te Roroa spokesman Will Ngakuru said having a non-governmental organisation step in was "privatisation of a government department by stealth". Te Roroa felt "unresourced and about to drop off the end of the table" by MPI "passing the buck".

The iwi is considering a rahui, or visitor ban, to protect Northland's Waipoua Forest.

Ngakuru said another possible measure was closing the forest's main tourist centre near old nurseries where the disease was thought to have entered.

MPI Minister Nathan Guy said the Government remained committed to slowing the disease's spread. "We welcome any contribution from anybody who wants to be involved in this important cause."

Greens MP Eugenia Sage said the deal showed the MPI was handing its responsibilies to the private sector.

Labour's associate environment spokesman Phil Twyford said the donation was "absolutely shameful" and showed the Government was leaving charities and local councils to save the species.

MPI has funded 80 per cent of a $5.5 million five-year programme to control the killer disease, caused by the water-borne fungus-like phytophthora taxon agathis (PTA). The $30,000 from the Tindall Foundation will help pay for a review of the programme which involves councils in the kauri zone, the Department of Conservation, iwi and MPI. Tindall Foundation manager Trevor Gray said: "There may be ongoing funding and donations."

MPI documents indicate the department aims to be the "national coordinator" for the programme in the future, and fund its involvement from a "baseline" budget.

Kauri infected with PTA are doomed. It is present in Auckland, Great Barrier and Northland, including Waipoua Forest, home of famed kauri Tane Mahuta.

Sage said the Tindall Foundation contribution was generous but a "drop in the bucket" compared to the $5 million shortfall if the MPI pulled back. The Crown had responsibility "for such an iconic species".

Auckland councillor Sandra Coney still hoped the MPI would restore funding. "We need to convince them that it's not too late. I believe we've got a good chance of controlling it."

- Herald on Sunday

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