As Weekend Herald columnist John Roughan says, New Zealanders are ready for their leaders to come up with a big idea. Or several. Over the Christmas break, many Kiwis enjoyed the best of our country - the joys of friends and family, the pleasure of beaches, rivers and open spaces, the sense of living in a small, intimate land where everything is still possible. Time to count our blessings, and plan for a bright future.
According to Roughan, our blessings are "rainfall, grass, blue skies, remote beauty and fresh air". He suggests New Zealand should set the international gold standard for producing wholesome and reliable food. This must be based on high environmental standards - the 100 per cent Pure New Zealand brand.
As the Pure Advantage group of business leaders have pointed out, most of our wealth is based on the land and sea, through tourism as well as food production. In an increasingly polluted and crowded world, our food, wine and tourism should be at the premium end of global markets. But for this to happen, the 100 per cent Pure NZ brand has to be real.
Around the world, consumers are demanding that food, wine and timber are sustainably produced. Here, NZ's clean, green image is of inestimable value, along with our reputation for straight dealing.
But at home, domestic policies that head in the opposite direction put both at imminent risk. The Resource Management Act, for example, is being reviewed to weaken rather than strengthen environmental standards. The Department of Conservation is being eviscerated. The global Forestry Stewardship Council standards for sustainable production of timber are being flouted, with officials turning a blind eye. The Land and Water Forum, which aimed to agree on higher water-quality standards, has been hijacked.
No wonder the integrity of our "clean, green" reputation is being assailed by news forums around the world. Expect much more of this in future. The uproar over traces of DCD in New Zealand milk indicates that our word on environmental matters is no longer trusted, and that the economic costs are very high. Roughan, the Pure Advantage group, Rod Oram and many other commentators are right. The only way to safeguard our reputation as a premium producer is to do as we say, and uphold high standards. It is not just cynical, but economically stupid to keep on destroying NZ's biodiversity and degrading waterways, soils and harbours in the pursuit of short-term profit. Given the gravity of the risks to our prosperity, tinkering around the edges will not do.
Industry, national and regional government and ordinary Kiwis need to link arms, get behind our 100 per cent Pure New Zealand brand and make it real. This is where we need some big ideas.
At the recent Transit of Venus Forum, hosted by the Royal Society of New Zealand, two such ideas emerged for serious discussion. One is Pest-Free New Zealand, inspired by Sir Paul Callaghan, which aims to tackle catastrophic falls in biodiversity. As he noted, of 179 countries in a recent study, NZ has the highest proportion of species at risk of extinction, and our forests are falling silent.
The other is Te Awaroa, which aims to restore NZ's streams and rivers by planting bush buffers along the banks. By "mucking in", we can work with scientists to create wildlife corridors instead of weed corridors, reduce erosion and run-off, and the harm caused by waterborne diseases. Both projects are ambitious enough to attract international attention, upholding the 100 per cent Pure New Zealand brand. Now the Christmas break is over, it's time to roll up our sleeves and get cracking. Let's take these big ideas to heart, and look after our beautiful land.
Dame Anne Salmond is a distinguished professor of Maori studies and anthropology, University of Auckland.
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