What’s Up Doc?
By Owen McShane – Director, Centre for Resource Management Studies
Imagine, if a few of us in this room, suddenly inherited one third of the area of New Zealand, including over half of
the South Island.
Imagine if a survey then revealed that this land contained most of the truly spectacular scenery in the country, the
prime ski-fields, our most famous mountain peaks, the most glorious rivers and fiords, and generally all those things
that attract tourists from near and afar.
Imagine if another survey then revealed that our estate contained billions of dollars worth of readily extractable gold,
coal, and other minerals, as well as huge expanses of forest capable of sustainable management.
Obviously we would be sitting on an asset worth billions on billions of dollars, well able to generate cash flows of
many hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
Can you then imagine any circumstance that would justify our seeking annual handouts from the taxpayers of New Zealand?
Wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect that we should be able to earn a decent profit and actually hand over to the
Government millions of tax dollars, which would then be available to fund health and education, and even the odd hip-hop
Yet last year the taxpayers of New Zealand actually gave DoC $290 million to help them “manage” this huge piece of prime
real estate. DoC’s mis-managers demand this grant every year and keep crying that it’s not enough. What’s more they fail
dismally to protect this asset against degradation by possums and similar pests, and cannot even figure out how to make
sure that threatened species are no longer threatened; even though the solution is obvious to anyone who farms
They make it so difficult for people to get access to this estate that the Government wants to force private landowners
to provide public access to scenic spots over their own land.
Why do we put up with this?
I am reminded of the old Forest Service. It, too, never paid a dividend on its assets during its whole existence. Once
it was corporatised it paid a dividend and the forests were much better managed.
I suppose at this point someone will claim that DoC does a wonderful job protecting our conservation estate and
protecting native animals and so on. If you believe that you will believe anything.
Frankly if you are a rare native animal on the DoC estate you are probably doomed to extinction. Unlike native plants,
which flourishing in the care of private citizens, and fish, which are sustainably managed through a tradeable quota
system, our native animals don’t stand a chance. And the possums continue to destroy the bush.
Would any Government be prepared to disband DoC, and set up a new organization, which will actually generate a dividend
after meeting its conservation obligations? It’s not hard. All we need is an organization committed to managing this
land under the principles of sustainable management as defined in the RMA, rather than the wealth destructive ethic of
heavy-handed conservation based on the claimed ‘efficiencies’ of socialism.
DoC has raised theft to a new height. Your regular thief doesn’t steal your car, and then ask for a monthly contribution
to its running costs.
DoC’s Corruption of Language
You might have thought that if you were growing endangered plant species in your private gardens, or on public parkland,
you were doing the “God of Nature's” work.
Not according to the true nature-worshippers in DoC. Private gardeners are keeping these plants “in captivity”.
Consequently these imprisoned plants are obviously distressed and will not be happy until they have run away to live in
freedom on the Conservation estate or on land taken from you by force.
In case you need the evidence, read these captions to a press release from DoC :
DOC plant ecologist John Sawyer with the nationally-threatened Euphorbia glauca (sea spurge) which is being captive bred
in traffic islands and urban reservations.
DOC plant ecologist John Sawyer with the nationally-threatened shrubby tororaro (Muehlenbeckia astonii) which is now
being captive bred in traffic islands and urban reservations, and restored to reserves and islands in the region.
DOC plant ecologist John Sawyer with the nationally-uncommon fierce lancewood (Pseudoparax ferox) which is now being
grown in captivity for reintroduction to new sites.
You may be dismayed by the reference to “urban reservations”. What makes a park a “reservation”? Are the wordsmiths of
DoC trying to associate our urban parks with Indian Reservations or something similar?
It seems to me that by describing plants in private gardens as captives of human goalers DoC is attempting to downgrade
the obvious success of private nurseries, and gardeners, in keeping native plants alive and well in New Zealand rather
than joining their list of threatened species. The tenor of the captions above is to persuade us that such private
gardening does not count because the plants are not “free”.
On the other hand none of the eighty thousand trees and plants my wife and I have planted in our own park have ever
shown any proclivity to run away to find their freedom in a DoC managed world.
Conservation rather than Sustainable Management.
DoC in its present form is something of an accident of history. During the process of reform many other government
departments such as Forestry and the CRIs were put on some form of commercial footing. DoC appears to have been cobbled
together by putting all the Land and Survey Public Land into the hands of one agency which was labeled “The Department
of Conservation”. There seems to have been no attempt to classify the land it controlled as deserving of Conservation.
Most countries have a target of land held for conservation purposes as some 10% of total land mass. Here in New Zealand
DoC manages over thirty percent of the land mass and seems determined to increase this without any target which will
determine when enough is finally enough.
The Department is now extending its territory to include Marine Parks.
But it sees no need at all to pay its way or even make some significant contribution to its own costs. Any extension of
its territory, or of its tasks and responsibilities, is seen as an excuse to ask the government to increase its funding.
There appear to be no grounds for assuming that all the land managed by the Department is worthy of conservation and
indeed the Department has no reason to promote sustainable management as long as it sees itself entitled to make ever
increasing demands on the public purse. At present DoC is taking over more land through the High Country tenure
revisions. The Governnment has handed over several more millions to fund these purchases.
DoC has never even considered funding these purchases out of the sale of lower-ranked conservation land.
Without any external discipline, why should it?
The Constitutional Outrage
DoC does not own the conservation estate. The people of New Zealand own the estate and DoC is charged with managing it
on behalf of the Crown which owns the estate on our behalf.
In his seminal work “Property and Freedom”, Richard Pipes notes that the difference between Czarist Russia and the West
was that the Czar personally owned the whole of Russia, while the people owned the lands of the nations of the Western
world. Even when the Crown owned the land it was still acting with the fudiciary duties of their role as Trustees of the
And yet for some reason decisions on the use and development of every square metre of New Zealand’s Conservation Estate
resides finally with the single Minister of Conservation, who can act as though the land was his or her personal fiefdom
– and they do.
Surely, if some proposal to use or develop land on the Conservation Estate involves some conflict or trade-off between
economic development and conservation then that should be resolved around the Cabinet table where Ministers can present
the competing interests and the Executive, acting as the people’s trustees, can balance the competing interests and make
a decision in the public interest.
I should not need to document the endless times that the nation has foregone huge economic benefits on account of
dubious claims by those who put no price on conservation interests.
Until these claims are contested around the Cabinet table, or even before some specially constituted committee of
Parliament, there will be no balance, and the our public interests are left to the mercy of a Ministerial whim.
DoC – the Council Bully
Some years ago the Far North District Council published a proposed District Plan that stole so much private land for
“natural heritage” protection, that Council withdrew the whole Plan and started all over again.
Their revised plan gained widespread support from the local people and communities.
The bullies were not happy and have filed references to the Environment Court as follows:
Department of Conservation – 137 appeals
Royal Forest and Bird Society – 90 appeals
Environmental Defence Society – 57 appeals
TOTAL 284 appeals
“Others”, who are typically local landowners and private citizens, have filed only 133 appeals, and about 35% of these
actually support their Council against DoC and their government funded friends.
These outsiders, who want to reinstate the old Plan outnumber locals by almost three to one. And yet these outsiders
don’t pay rates, they don’t vote, and of course they don’t pick up any of the costs they impose on the local people.
Without these outsider interventions, Council would have to deal with about 100 appeals, most of which could be easily
managed at low cost.
The Far North District Council is one of our poorest Councils and their finances have not been helped by the costs of
the earlier debacle and their recent problems with oyster farms.
The bullies sense a weak target and have moved in for the kill. That’s how bullies behave.
The end result is that the Council staff are folding before DoC’s charge and the final Plan will be hardly any different
from the one which was withdrawn several years ago.
For example the withdrawn plan has massive tree protection rules which effectively stole about a third of private land
and turned it into conservation land leaving the landowners to carry the costs.
This heavy handed regulatory approach was abandoned by the Council in the preparation of its draft and proposed Plan .
Through the mediation process DoC has reinstated the regulatory approach effectively winning back all the “takings” the
community had rejected.
And yet the RMA was intended to promote local decision-making.
Instead the Wellington funded bullies have triumphed over the local communities.