An independent expert has claimed that DOC funding has been cut by $40m, but DOC denies the claim. The fact is that DOC’s budgets are opaque and difficult to follow on a year on year basis, so nominal funding cuts are difficult to prove.
However, the real issue is that when it comes to delivering the results they are tasked with, more money needs to be invested in Conservation. While there’s always scope for spending money more effectively, the importance of our natural capital to securing a clean and clever economic growth strategy has never been so apparent. The state of our freshwater resources is the public’s Number 1 environmental concern, and the fast-growing numbers of tourists who come here to sample our natural capital both are evidence of the conservation’s importance.
What Happened in Budget 2016?
Based on the figures in Budget 2016, DOC’s budget has fallen by $40m between this year 2015/16 and next 2016/17.
However this is mainly explainable by two factors – one in their normal expenses spending and one in their capital.
Firstly, DOC got $20m funding to spend this year on the Battle for our Birds II – basically a massive 1080 drop. Some of that money might be spent this financial year, some next – regardless it is a one-off, so the drop in funding is not unexpected.
The second factor is a drop in DOC’s capital budget – that is the money they spend on the ‘purchase or development of assets’. Their capital allowance has dropped by about $20m, reflecting the fact that they haven’t spent their full budget in the past few years. In the government accounts capital spending is treated very differently to their day to day expenses, and DOC has an incentive not to spend this money if they can help it.
The two smaller areas that do seem to have been cut are the community conservation partnerships fund (money for local community groups) and the fund DOC uses to buy new Conservation or reserve land.
In short, there is no smoking gun of funding cuts here. But then that is for one year (the Greens have argued there are ongoing cuts) and everyone admits that DOC funding is quite opaque because of its ability to move money around into different years.
Inflation, Population, Tourism
What we do know is that all this information above is based on nominal funding figures. DOC funding hasn’t kept pace with the key drivers of cost – inflation, population growth and tourism.
Inflation is obvious – price rises make it more expensive to do business. Population rises and tourism numbers on the other hand put more pressure on track and hut infrastructure. As we can see from the chart below, tourism has increased from around 2m visitors in the early 2000s to over 3m now. Most of that increase has come since 2012, yet DOC funding has not kept pace. We know that most tourists have some sort of nature experience while they are here, and just under half are here primarily for that reason.
But most concerning of all, we know that DOC isn’t achieving the things that we want from them.
As we have discussed previously, most of our native species are still in decline. The Government has acted to stem the decline of kiwi numbers, however not all of this was new money – some was diverted from elsewhere in DOC. Many others of our native birds are still in a precarious state of decline – including the kokako, blue duck and many seabirds (such as the yellow eye penguin). This is why we have argued for a tourist tax to gather extra funds to save these creatures.
DOC is working more in partnerships and with philanthropists to get the job done. However what the private sector needs is some stability in the job that DOC will do in order to decide what more they can do. Otherwise if they get involved they risk DOC cutting their activity.
This is why we need a strategy, a plan to save our native species. It needs to think long term, and show how the government will work to stem the loss of native species. Once we have the plan in place, philanthropists and communities can work to return our native species to their former glory.