17 May 2024

$63.6m for Surf Life Saving and Coastguard in Budget 2024

1:05 pm on 17 May 2024

Surf Life Saving New Zealand and the Coastguard will receive a funding boost of $63.6 million over four years, the government has announced.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, Transport Minister Simeon Brown,and Associate Minister Matt Doocey outlined the new funding as part of a pre-Budget announcement this morning.

"Both organisations are facing across the board cost increases. At the same time New Zealand has a tragically high drowning toll and services of frontline services keeping people safe in and around water are needed more than ever before," Brown said.

About 90 people drowned every year and the government was intent on seeing that number reduced.

The money would be divided as $19m for Coastguard and $44m for Surf Life Saving NZ.

The package is being funded from both Budget 24 and reprioritised funding, mainly from underspends in 2023/24.

Funding will help plug the gaps, say organisation heads

Surf Life Saving NZ CEO Steve Fisher said the organisation was "thrilled" and "delighted" at the government's announcement.

It had been increasingly difficult for the organisation to make ends meet, and the money would help Surf Life Saving support its 4500 surf lifeguard volunteers with equipment and training.

"When government funding first came in a few years ago we were able to provide about 70 percent of the opex (operation expenditure) costs for our clubs; because of inflation and other things that's now eroded down to 50 percent," he said.

Coastguard New Zealand CEO Callum Gillespie said the organisation had made an application to the government for new funding but it was not aware of what would be announced today.

"We've received everything that we asked for, so this is good."

Coastguard would use the money to ensure volunteers had the right personal protective equipment, and that equipment such as rescue boats and tractors were well maintained, he said.

It would also allow the organisation to hire additional staff and to plan for the future.

The announcement would save lives, Gillespie said, citing the example of Northland's Mangawhai, where the nearest rescue units were currently "an hour to the south or an hour to the north".

"We intend to establish a team at Mangawhai, which will enable them to respond immediately."

Transport Minister Simeon Brown makes a pre-budget Surf Lifesaving & Coastguard funding announcement

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, Transport Minister Simeon Brown, Associate Minister Matt Doocey announce the funding on Friday. Photo: RNZ/Marika Khabazi

Lifeguards and Coastguard were at the frontline of efforts to reduce the country's high drowning toll, he said.

"Costs are rising across the board for these largely volunteer-driven organisations. The funding will cover operational expenses for both organisations as well as rescue equipment, facilities and maintenance."

There were around 4500 lifeguards, Brown said, and the extra funding would help with training and gear as well as the upkeep of their buildings.

They carried out around 31,000 "preventative actions" annually, he said.

Simeon Brown & Christopher Luxon at a pre-budget announcement regarding Surf Lifesaving & the Coastguard

Photo: RNZ/Marika Khabazi

Coastguard rescued more than 6000 people who got into trouble on the water annually and needed more funds "to deliver their essential prevention and rescue services".

"Demand for Coastguard is growing."

He thanked both organisations for their "great work saving lives on the water".

Luxon said heading to the water was a Kiwi way of life, however, it came with risk and frontline organisations such as Surf Life Saving New Zealand and Coastguard New Zealand needed more funds.

He said he was a huge admirer of both services and put in a plug for boaties to join Coastguard and take one of their education courses which he has done.

Christopher Luxon shakes hands with a stakeholder at a pre-budget announcement about Surf Lifesaving & Coastguard funding

Christopher Luxon meets one of the people attending the briefing. Photo: RNZ/Marika Khabazi

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