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New Zealand's highly successful 100 per cent Pure tourism campaign is aspirational, the Associate Tourism Minister said yesterday.

Jonathan Coleman faced questions from Green MP David Clendon and Labour MP David Parker over declining water quality in lowland rivers and the resulting recent knocks to New Zealand's reputation as a pristine tourist destination.

When asked how pure New Zealand was right now, Dr Coleman said: "I don't think it's a matter of that.

"The 100 per cent Pure campaign was an aspirational advertising campaign. The aim was to bring tourists to New Zealand and it has been extremely successful," the minister said.

The admission follows international criticism of the "100 per cent Pure " slogan as the Rugby World Cup approaches.

Last month, Prime Minister John Key received a grilling from BBC journalist Stephen Sackur on the television programme HardTalk.

Mr Key, who is also Tourism Minister, defended the 100 per cent Pure slogan as Sackur confronted him with criticism from leading environmental scientist Mike Joy of Massey University that New Zealand was "delusional about how green and clean we are".

"That might be Mike Joy's view but I don't share that view," said Mr Key.

"He's one academic and, like lawyers, I can give you another one that will give a counterview."

Compared with the rest of the world New Zealand was 100 per cent Pure, Mr Key said, but Sackur disagreed, saying: "100 per cent is 100 per cent and clearly you're not 100 per cent. You've clearly got problems with river pollution."

Yesterday, Mr Clendon said that once tourists arrived here, they were often disappointed "by finding beaches with signs up saying, 'Polluted area, do not swim'."

"What's the strategy for managing that expectation that we have created and are now failing to fulfil?"

Dr Coleman said the Government had been taking a number of initiatives such as establishing the Environmental Protection Authority "and it's going to be an ongoing point of discussion with the industry and the public".

Mr Parker, however, dismissed the notion that 100 per cent Pure was just a slogan with little basis in fact.

The HardTalk interview "proves that the rest of the world are alert to the issue that we say one thing and do another".

He lashed out at Mr Key's Government for "neutering" the national policy statement on fresh water quality so that it no longer effectively controlled discharges into waterways involving the likes of nitrogen and phosphate fertiliser leachate and animals' excrement and urine.