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Opposition MPs have turned on conservation minister Nick Smith, saying his reputation is in "tatters" and the Government is trying to turn the Department of Conservation into a "corporate entity" after the slashing of 140 jobs.
Director-General Al Morrison yesterday outlined the latest round of restructuring at the cash-strapped department, which included job cuts and reducing the number of regions from 11 to six.
Of the cuts, 118 came from management and administrative positions, and 22 from operations in a bid to save around $9 million. The department must also find another $2 million in savings.
The move came after a report from the Office of the Auditor General praised DOC's structure, saying regional staff were its biggest strength. It also warned of the risks of relying on commercial partnerships, as the department tries to shore up its coffers.
Labour's conservation spokeswoman Ruth Dyson attacked Smith, saying "his reputation for being passionate about the sector is in tatters."
The Government was putting fundraising before conservation, she said.
The auditor-general's report was "damning," she said. It criticised "the Government's under-funding of the department saying cuts posed a significant threat to our conservation values and prevented the department from fulfilling its statutory responsibility for environmental protection."
Dyson said the cuts were to frontline services and Prime Minister John Key's claims the department was overstaffed were misleading.
Green MP Eugenie Sage said the Government had cut 265 jobs from DOC since 2008. Around $62 million has also been slashed from its budget. Staff are an "endangered species," she said.
"With the department already pared to the bone these latest cuts will mean less protection of our special native plants and wildlife," she said.
"National is trying to turn DOC into a corporate entity focussed on stakeholders and corporate sponsorship at the expense of its key role to to protect and preserve native plants and animals."
Public Service Association nation secretary Brenda Pilott agreed the downsizing would take out front line jobs. The body represented 1400 DOC staff.
"These are not solely desk-bound, paper-pushing jobs," she said.
"These people are hands-on managers who spend time in the field organising and planning resources and running frontline activities and programmes such as species recovery or track building.
''They might have the word manager in their title but they do frontline work and are central to the delivery of DOC's operations."
But Smith yesterday turned fire on Dyson in Parliament. He said Labour had overstaffed the department and more than doubled its budget.
"This flattened structure will enable us to deliver better conservation and value for money for the taxpayer."
He insisted the bulk of the cut positions were in middle-management. "At the end of this restructuring, there will be more rangers-more rangers-in the Department of Conservation than there ever was," he said.
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- © Fairfax NZ News
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