DOC 'could cut 100-plus jobs'

HAMISH RUTHERFORD
Last updated 17:10 25/03/2013

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Job losses at the Department of Conservation won't be front-line staff, Prime Minister John Key has said.

More than 100 jobs were expected to be cut when the formal announcement is made at noon tomorrow.

It follows the loss of 120 positions last year.

Steps would be taken to help the people at the department to carry on their work, but he would not be drawn on details today.

"I don't believe they will be largely characterised as [front-line]," Key said.

"There may be one or two people that would argue a case there but my understanding is that's not the right classification."

The Greens say New Zealand's 100% Pure brand will be under threat from the job cuts and that more than 265 jobs have been cut from the cash-strapped department since 2008.

Green party conservation spokeswoman Eugenie Sage said the jobs cuts would leave DOC without the expertise it needed to protect native plants and wildlife.

"The technical expertise and commitment of DOC staff are vital for conservation in New Zealand," she said.

"The funding pressure that National's budget cuts have put on DOC will put endangered species at risk.

"Volunteers and business cannot do the work of skilled conservation staff or meet the funding shortfall as the department is hoping.

"Our '100 per cent Pure' brand is intimately tied up with our strong environmental reputation. National's reckless job cuts and the resulting loss of expertise are undermining all that."

Forest and Bird advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell said DOC had been subject to continual cutbacks for several years, but previous reductions had been mainly at national or regional co-ordination level.

"They're now looking down where the frontline staff are, so this will really bite where a lot of the work happens," he said, adding he expected DOC would make greater use of volunteers.

"It'll be dressed up as some sort of advantage but it's not going to be," Hackwell said.

He said that volunteers would inevitably be engaged largely in light work in areas close to major urban centres, and the cuts would include work protecting endangered species deep in the conservation estate.

"These remote areas are impossible for volunteers to reach regularly," Hackwell said.

"Low numbers of people do not mean low numbers of possums, stoats and rats - quite the opposite."

However conservation minister Nick Smith this morning defended the restructuring, saying the organisation would be better off for the changes.

Key said he did not believe the cuts would impact on New Zealand's green image or threatened species work.

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- The Dominion Post

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