24 Jun 2011

Fears DoC job cuts will threaten conservation estate

8:22 pm on 24 June 2011

The Government is being accused of jeopardising the conservation estate following an announcement that the Department of Conservation (DoC) is shedding more than 100 jobs.

DoC says the job losses will mainly be in office-based support roles in the national office in Wellington and the 11 regional conservancy offices.

The department says about 102 of its 1800 staff will lose their jobs by the end of the year.

It says the redundancies, mostly involving back-office roles, are part of a drive to focus more on conservation work in the field.

But Forest and Bird, the Federated Mountain Clubs and the Environment and Conservation Organisation disagree.

They say technical knowledge and expertise will be lost and field staff will have to spend more time doing paperwork.

Federated Mountain Clubs president Richard Davies and Forest and Bird conservation spokesperson Nicola Vallance say the job losses will affect DoC's work in the field.

"In terms of track and hut quality, and looking at visitor' expectations and visitor needs; all that stuff is a back office function and we suspect that is going to go with these cuts," says Mr Davies.

Ms Vallance says: "The support services they're speaking of include technical advisers, they include scientific staff, they include the on-the-ground people who've been studying for years the wildlife and the wild places in each region and they're the ones best placed to advise New Zealand on how to protect, so it's extremely concerning."

The Public Service Association says its members have been told to expect further cost cutting.

DoC head 'misled' committee - MP

Green party MP Kevin Hague is accusing DoC director general Al Morrison of misleading a select committee about the cuts.

Mr Hague says Mr Morrison neglected to mention the losses when appearing at the Local Government and Environment select committee on Thursday.

"My question was about jobs specifically, and my belief is that most of the people who were present in the room that day would have interpreted his answer as saying that there would not be job cuts in that area. I certainly was gobsmacked when I heard the news just 24 hours after he had given that answer."

Mr Morrison has rejected the claims, saying his comments are a matter of public record and he stands by them.