OPINION: Department of Conservation director-general Al Morrison is a passionate believer in the work his department does.
His note-perfect imitation of a bellbird is legendary, for what it proves, and as a fellow political reporter in an earlier life it may be too easy for some of us to cut him some slack. Honour among thieves and all that.
But as much as he defends the impact of the latest restructuring, axing 140 jobs on top of last year's "downsizing", it is hard to swallow the assurances he has given; mollifying words echoed enthusiastically by his minister, Nick Smith, and again by Prime Minister John Key in the House yesterday.
In essence the sales pitch is that the cuts will not see any reduction in core services or in DOC's ability to, for example, preserve biodiversity.
That's not to say Mr Morrison is wrong about a head of steam among volunteers wanting to assist, or among corporates willing to sponsor various projects - though their reasons may range from altruism to "greenwashing".
And he has a point when he argues that with a mandate covering 33 per cent of New Zealand's land mass DOC needs all the help it can get from the community, landowners, occupiers, business and NGOs all pulling in the same direction.
But would a Maccas Milford Track really be a goer?
As Labour conservation spokeswoman Ruth Dyson puts it, corporate sponsorship is good as an extra but not for core conservation responsibilities.
As a last resort it can help, but it is not a resort that necessarily lasts.
Mr Morrison is right to argue that any organisation - including publicly funded ones - ought to find ways to be more efficient. And yes, the new structure he is putting in place, after extensive input from DOC staff, may be an improvement.
But arguing that the changes would have been made, even if there was no need to make savings, is not the point.
In common with police and defence, with their respective "uncivilianisation" and "civilianisation" moves, and the cost-cutting and call-centre-isation of other government agencies, the arguments are starting to wear thin.
How many jobs can go down the road, how much back office "fat" can be trimmed, before frontline services suffer?
Cuts have had a measurable impact.
A depleted inspectorate was a contributing factor at Pike River, for instance.
But there is unlikely to be a public outcry until services are affected, and overtly so.
Sympathy is in short supply for anyone seen as a "bureaucrat" or a back office paper-pusher.
But when, to beef up the appearance of a burgeoning frontline, staff are renamed "rangers" then the spin doctors have taken over the asylum - despite Key's assertion that there was "no spin involved".
The political buck does not stop with DOC or its director-general, who is contract-bound not to sing out of tune with the Government's policy.
The real questions rest at the feet of Conservation Minister Smith - ironically the greenest minister in the Cabinet - and his predecessor, Kate Wilkinson.
Can they explain, specifically, what it is about the latest announcements that address the issues raised by the auditor- general's report in December.
It pointed out stakeholders felt regional conservancy staff were DOC's strength. They were concerned about the loss of regional specialist advice and support that would arise from the restructuring. "They felt that this would affect the ability of DOC's staff to be effective and responsive."
The report also touched on the risks of relying on commercial partnerships, which would expose DOC to the vagaries of corporate profits and balance sheets.
It also noted DOC's staff needed to lift their skills.
And the big picture painted by the report was bleak.
Despite DOC's reputation for cutting-edge methods and practices, it is not winning the battle against the threat to indigenous species and their habitats.
"Recent reports show that, at best, efforts to date are merely slowing the decline of biodiversity in New Zealand, which is a cause for concern."
It is hard to see how any of that is helped by the changes being put in place at DOC. Or by another $2 million being pruned from its budget. Or by the steady erosion of its budget by inflation as the lid sinks across the public service.
In reality DOC is doing little more than staving off the inevitable, even at current - soon to be past - funding levels.
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