Minister of Conservation Kiri Allan shares her priorities and hopes for a more sustainable future for Aotearoa.
What priorities do you bring to the role?
My focus over the next year will be our Jobs for Nature programme which is about creating a skilled new conservation workforce as well as inspiring a new generation of environmental nurturers and guardians, whitebait regulation reform, stewardship land and legislation reviews, and ensuring conservation plays a strong role in any tourism strategies as part of the Government’s Covid recovery plan.
How has Covid shaped your role?
The pandemic has had a huge impact on the way we’ve had to prioritise certain things over others. But it’s provided opportunities as well – there are hundreds of people up and down the country employed in pest control, fencing, riparian planting, biodiversity, ecological restoration of sites on public land, on private land, on Māori freehold land. We are really focused on enabling people to see a future for themselves in environmental work.
There’s a number of operators in particular regions who are heavily dependent on tourism, so we’ve been really proactive in looking at the type of mahi that best suits those who have been affected, people who have lost their jobs or their business because of Covid. The Jobs for Nature programme is an investment of just over $500 million to create sustainable nature-based work.
How will the government ensure conservation areas don’t get overwhelmed with visitors?
It’s not so much about being overwhelmed, or the numbers, but ensuring every single person who steps onto the land doesn’t do it harm. Prior to Covid-19, international visitor numbers were at an all-time high and, while impacts were not always well understood, infrastructure pressures at some places were evident. Fewer international tourists has provided New Zealanders with an opportunity to reflect on what a sustainable domestic and international tourism future might look like. For a small number of our very popular, iconic experiences, such as Tongariro Alpine Crossing and Milford Sound, or sensitive environments, such as kauri forest and nesting colonies, this may include looking at what an appropriate number of visitors might be and how that could be implemented.
Do you think the concept of kaitiakitanga will play a greater role in Aotearoa’s conservation future?
To be a kaitiaki is to ensure you are exercising your roles and your obligations as a guardian. The more you feel you have a connection to the taiao or to the whenua, and the more you can see yourself having a direct relationship, the less likely you are to abuse and exploit it.
I’m hopeful that there is a shift in our collective consciousness to be thinking about the way that we walk on the whenua and about our relationship with Papatūānuku.
We are also looking at ways we could build a system of regenerative tourism in which visitors would not only enjoy sustainable experiences but actually contribute, directly or indirectly, to the health and sustainability of New Zealand’s natural and cultural heritage. This contribution could be planting a tree, checking a trapline or in the form of a donation or through ‘voluntourism’ initiatives.
The current Labour government is perhaps the country’s most diverse ever. What does diversity mean to you?
Diversity is all about bringing different perspectives, life experiences, and values to the table. It’s about bringing people with a broad depth of experience and views together – whether that's iwi or hapu, our farmers and our hunters, or those friends and families who have been involved in conservation for generations – to shape critical decisions that impact all of us. And that’s what I hope to see in terms of how we approach decision making on conservation issues; that we understand that the decisions we are making now will affect the lives of future generations. It’s about ensuring we are enabling a space at the table for every view and experience.
What small everyday changes can people make to help Aotearoa’s environment?
Get out and experience our environment, and when doing so, see yourself as a guardian – ask the question, ‘what can I do to protect this place for future generations?’ Plant more trees, donate to organisations that do, be conscious about how your actions today affect the generations of tomorrow.