Here are a couple of questions. Who is Labour’s spokesperson on conservation? Who is the Green Party’s?

The questions were posed by Forest & Bird CEO Kevin Hague when I interviewed him recently. Embarrassingly for a journalist, I didn’t know the answers.

Hague spared my blushes by saying that almost nobody he speaks to knows who the shadow spokespeople are.

Therein, says Hague, lies a major problem. “Political parties in this country just don’t place enough importance on conservation. The Government spends half of 1 percent of its budget on conservation and the Minister, Maggie Barry, is ranked 18th in cabinet. “

Hague says Labour is almost silent on conservation while at the same time, “nature is in crisis”.

Hague, a former Green MP, doesn’t spare his old party. “It pains me to say it but the Greens aren’t much better.”

Voters, he says, are letting the political parties off the hook.

“Surveys show that just four percent of voters think conservation issues are important enough to influence the way they vote. Parties like the Greens are very aware of this and feel that if they are to get more seats in Parliament they need to concentrate on issues like health, education, housing, et cetera.“

Hague says most people believe that conservation in this country is well looked after.

“They see TV news pictures of a relocated kiwi being released into a predator-free sanctuary, everyone is smiling and it looks good.“

What they don’t see, according to Hague, is that kiwi chicks born outside of highly managed predator-free areas have only a five percent chance of making it through to adulthood.

“Stoats, weasels, cats and dogs are wreaking havoc on our wildlife. Three thousand species of birds are facing extinction if we don’t do something, and a further 1000 are endangered. We have a crisis.”

But how to put conservation on the political agenda?

Hague believes the current debate over water quality will help. 

“Water issues have really hit home with a lot of New Zealanders. The fact the you can’t swim in a lot of our waterways now, or drink the water has woken people up.

“What we need is for people to start telling our politicians that this is a big issue and get them to compete on improving their conservation policies, currently they don’t have to.”

In the video interview Kevin Hague also talks about the impact of tourism and dairying on the natural environment.

*Answers: Nanaia Mahuta is Labour’s conservation spokesperson and Mojo Mathers is the Green Party’s.

Mark Jennings is co-editor of Newsroom.

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