Coastal Society of New Zealand: Opening Address, Tahuna Beach Function Centre, Nelson

  • Marian Hobbs

Thank you for inviting me here to open your annual seminar: Sand, Sea, Surf, and Settlements - words that most New Zealanders eagerly relate to. It is extremely encouraging to see a bunch of enthusiastic individuals here today tackling some hard but vital issues affecting our coast.

I am sure the next two days will unravel some interesting challenges - and I'm not referring to tonight's winery tour. New Zealanders have an innate relationship with the sea, and with it comes many competing demands and expectations.

Managing these expectations, whilst coping with a changing global climate, requires practical and robust solutions. This seminar presents a great opportunity for you to expand your coastal management toolboxes through sharing ideas and experiences.

The Government is also working on marine management solutions. We have several reviews on the boil - aquaculture, marine reserves, and soon the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement. However, the initiative that I would like to discuss with you today is the development of an Oceans Policy for New Zealand.

But first, I would like to comment on your principal theme for this seminar - managing climate change. I must say it is extremely refreshing to be amongst a group of individuals who are taking climate change seriously, and who are looking for practical solutions to make New Zealand's response a success.

The Government is also taking climate change seriously. I have made it one of my top four priorities for the environment portfolio - along with genetic modification, waste, and biodiversity.

The Government has said consistently it intends to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. And with decisions taken in Bonn, the case for ratification is even more compelling.

However, before any formal decisions are made about ratification, the Government will be embarking on an extensive consultation process from mid October through to mid December on what the national response to climate change should be. We must be fully prepared to ratify the protocol. And once ratified, we must then be in a position to actively implement our response.

The Government is taking steps towards building a long-term adaptation strategy to Climate Change in New Zealand. As part of the New Zealand Climate Change Programme, the Ministry for the Environment recently released an updated climate change "impacts report" on New Zealand. It covers impacts on the coast, fisheries, agriculture, forestry, native ecosystems, the urban environment, transport, energy, health, and on Maori. An essential read for all New Zealanders.

But of particular relevance to your seminar, is another handy report generated by the Ministry under the Climate Change Programme called: "Planning for Climate Change Effects on Coastal Margins". Hopefully some of you have had a chance to read it. In fact some of you probably helped write it. But for those who are not aware of its existence, it provides guidance to local authorities about the likely impacts of climate change and global warming on coastal margins, along response options for managing this change.

I must emphasise at this point, that planning for impacts of climate change in New Zealand needs to occur in a partnership between local and central government and the private sector. To this end, the Ministry for the Environment is planning on holding a number of workshops in 2002 to work out what kind of guidance is required by local government. And with a bit of luck, we can achieve some national consistency in local responses.

As much as we would like to hope, there is no silver lining to the sea-level rise story. But we do have a robust policy framework and the RMA to cope with climate change hazards. And we have time to plan prudently.

Our biggest challenge will be changing the mindsets of New Zealanders: from one of complacency, to one that recognises the serious long-term impacts. Education, discussion and gradual adjustment to sustainable solutions are the vital keys.

That is all I want to say about climate change today. I wish you well over the next two days.

Oceans Policy
Before I move onto the topic of Oceans Policy, I must acknowledge from the outset that it is my colleague Pete Hodgson, who is Minister responsible for this policy. But as one of the six core Ministers responsible for its development, I welcome the opportunity to discuss this important initiative. In presenting this topic, I will cover four issues.
· why we need an Oceans Policy;
· what it hopes to achieve;
· the context in which it is being developed
· and how we get there.

So, why do we need an Oceans Policy?
Well, for starters, we manage our marine environment through a patchwork of policy and legal regimes - 18 pieces of domestic legislation, 14 government departments, and a comprehensive international legal framework. And for some parts of the marine environment there is no effective management regime at all.

Our fragmented policy and legal regime makes it difficult to manage the marine environment in an ecosystem-based manner or in a way that accurately reflects its complex and interconnected nature.

Another difficulty rests with competing and conflicting objectives within the marine environment. Some of these objectives are defined, and some are not.

There are also numerous groups with legal rights and responsibilities - Iwi, commercial fishers, other extractive users, shippers, and statutory decision-makers (central and local government). Environmental interests are also represented in the legal framework.

When collisions occur over objectives, rights and responsibilities, it is possible to make trade-offs within particular sectors - for example fisheries. But difficulties occur in making trade-offs across sectors, particularly in a way that reflects the interconnected nature of the marine environment.

Clearly, what we are missing is an overarching framework that provides direction as to how all the components of oceans management function together. We need a framework that tells us what all the components should add up to. We need a framework that tells us what to do when one set of rules collides with another. We need to know where the trade-offs occur. We need to know whether the rules are consistent with a shared vision.

These problems alone highlight the pressing need for an Oceans Policy.

So, what will an Oceans Policy actually achieve?
Quite simply, it will achieve cohesion where currently there is none. It will help New Zealand to manage the conflicts between the different management regimes. And it will ensure that we are well positioned to take advantage of new opportunities, without putting our prized environment at risk.

An Oceans Policy will provide clear direction about what we are trying to achieve collectively. This includes what we collectively value about our oceans, and what priority we afford particular values at different times. So, when our laws do collide, and conflicts do occur, there will be a clear point of reference from which we can make informed choices.

The Oceans policy, however, will not be a rule-book for everything we want to do in our oceans.

Think of it as the ridgepole over the house - the tahuhu over the whare. The framework with supporting separate poles, each of which in itself is essential to a complete and functional structure. The house it supports must accommodate the interests, values and activities of all New Zealanders.

Context for Development
Although a fresh and democratic approach is a key feature of this Oceans Policy process, Ministers have also agreed on a context for its development. I will discuss briefly five core issues that provide a context for this Oceans Policy.

First, the Oceans Policy will focus on issues within the jurisdiction of New Zealand. With such a gigantic EEZ, that's all we can manage. It will not address issues relating to New Zealand's management of the Southern Oceans or New Zealand's role in the wider South Pacific region. However, the work involved in developing our domestic policy regime will in turn feed into New Zealand's policy on international oceans issues.

Second, the Treaty of Waitangi is a key feature of the context in which an Oceans Policy will be developed and implemented. Its principles must be reflected in the process to develop the policy and in its content.

Third, the Oceans Policy must reflect the principles derived from domestic legislation and international obligations. These include obligations to preserve and protect the marine environment; our commitment to an ecosystems-based approach to managing the use of natural resources; the concept of inter-generational equity; and the use of the precautionary approach to minimise risk on the environment.

The Oceans Policy must also be consistent with actions to implement international agreements. This includes the initiatives under the Biodiversity Strategy.

Fourthly, the Oceans Policy, and process to develop it, must take into account the existing rights and interests of stakeholders and the existing policies by which they are managed.
Some of those legal rights are individually held, such as the property right to harvest fish (quota). Others are held collectively, but exercised individually, such as the general right of access to the coastline. There are also rights to ensure the marine environment is kept in a healthy state, and that ecosystems continue to function in natural cycles.

Finally, the Oceans Policy must reflect the fact that we have a vast and complex marine environment, with limited understanding and information. And as a result, decisions about its sustainable use and management are often made without full information.

How are we getting there?

The Oceans Policy process isn't a "typical" central government process. It is being driven by a Committee of six Cabinet Ministers, which have been delegated authority from Cabinet to manage the development of the process. The Committee members comprise of Pete Hodgson, Phil Goff, Sandra Lee, Parekura Horomia, Paul Swain, and me.

Collectively, we are responsible for environmental, economic and Treaty issues concerning the marine environment.

In his launch speech of the Oceans Policy, my colleague Pete Hodgson identified three key features of the process, which are to remain constant throughout its development. First, the focus will be on the marine environment above all other things. How we value it, how we protect it, how we ensure its quality centuries from now.

Second, the process must be democratic. It must involve everyone who wishes to be involved - Maori, local government, sector groups, individuals.

And third, the process will be undertaken in three stages. Defining the vision, designing the process to achieve the vision, and delivering the vision. Three separate work programmes.

As Ministers we recognise the importance of understanding the range of views held by New Zealanders. We also saw the importance of New Zealanders participating in a process whereby they, collectively, can identify a vision.

If an Oceans Policy is going to direct us in making choices about the future of our oceans, it is necessary to clearly describe what we collectively want to achieve, and the price we are prepared to collectively pay to achieve those outcomes.

How are we doing this?
First, we appointed a Ministerial Advisory Committee on Oceans Policy. Their role was to assist us in defining the vision by managing and leading the process of identifying the shared vision, goals, and objectives of New Zealanders for managing the oceans.

The Committee was chaired by Dame Cath Tizard. The other members comprised: David McDowell, Dr Mac Beggs, Mark Bellingham, Rikki Gage, Dr Abigail Smith, Wally Stone, and David Anderson.

The task was an arduous one. But successful. The Committee traversed the country (including Steward Island and the Chatham islands) and attended seventy-one meetings, which included 24 hui, and 3 Pacific Island meetings. Around 2000 people attended the meetings.

Additionally, 1160 written submissions were received. The Oceans website too, was a huge hit. A staggering 300,000 downloads have been made within the past few months.

The Committee has produced their report. I have read it, and was pleased to observe that they kept to their terms of reference. They have painted for us a clear picture about what New Zealander's visions and values actually are. This will become vital information for Ministers in determining the next stage of the process.

My colleagues and I will be responding to the report within the next few weeks. And copies will be shortly available on the Oceans Policy website:

The Oceans Policy is a lifetime opportunity for you and all New Zealanders to help shape the future management of our marine environment. I am confident that your comprehensive programme of speakers, workshops, and field visits will surface some useful contributions to the next two stages of the Oceans Policy process.

I wish you well in your 2001 seminar - Sand, Sea, Surf and Settlements: Managing the Coast. You have some important issues to get through, so go to it. I'll look forward to seeing your practical ideas in action.