The Labour Party says if it is elected to government, it will bolster the role of the Department of Conservation which it says has been significantly weakened under the National Party.
Releasing its conservation policy on Saturday morning, spokesperson Ruth Dyson says the preservation of New Zealand's unique environment is essential to its identity, as it is the basis of the country's clean, green image and the foundation of the economy.
Labour says its policy focuses on three key areas: building greater investment in the Department of Conservation (DoC) as the frontline conservation agency; investing in communities and volunteers who support conservation efforts; and preserving and enhancing the country's land, air, water and indigenous wildlife.[image:3617:half:right]
Ruth Dyson told Radio New Zealand on Saturday that, even in tight financial times, there are certain things that are critical and can no longer be neglected.
"The funding cuts that the department has had to endure over the last three years has meant that some parts of our country, particularly where we have large areas of forests, may be permanently damaged.
"Now, that is not something that you can put to one side and say, 'When we've got some money, we'll look at pest control'. The damage that is being done currently is irreversible."
Ms Dyson says Labour will ensure that DoC is elevated to a leading advocacy role and has the resources it needs to actively maintain the country's biodiversity, including the necessary technical capability to bolster marine protection.
Labour says it wants 30% of New Zealand's marine area protected by 2020, including in the exclusive economic zone.
Pledge to restore water conservation orders
Labour says it would also restore the importance of water conservation orders, which restrict or prohibit taking of water from a waterway or discharges into it.
Ruth Dyson says the National Party has neglected conservation in New Zealand generally and virtually destroyed the water conservation orders system.
She believes says issues of water conservation need to be taken seriously, particularly in places like Canterbury.
Ms Dyson told Radio New Zealand that a freshwater National Policy Statement issued by the National-led Government this year did not contain any water quality standards for regional councils to implement.
"We can do better than that. We'll ensure that in the National Policy Statement there are standards that need to be implemented by regional councils and we will restore the primacy of the water conservation orders."
Other conservation policies
Labour says it has always been against mining on Schedule 4 conservation land and if elected, the party says there will be no mining of national parks.
"Labour believes that Schedule 4 land should be simplified and strengthened. This would provide greater certainty for all interests," Ms Dyson says.
The party says it will review the success or otherwise of the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy in its first 10 years and action the results of the review.
Other pledges include: encouraging private sector investment in conservation projects, making additions to land held for public conservation through dedicated funds, promoting pest-free sanctuaries and introducing a phase-out of unsustainable fishing methods.
Labour would also recommit to the Antarctic Treaty system and act as an international advocate for the protection of the Antarctic ecosystem from mineral or other inappropriate exploitation.