• Jim Bolger
Prime Minister


Hon Simon Upton, Cabinet and Parliamentary colleagues, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I am very pleased to be here today to launch this report, The State of New Zealand's Environment.

The environment has always been important to New Zealanders and never more so than today.

It is important to us from an economic viewpoint -- our agriculture, our horticulture, our forestry, our fisheries and our tourism all depend on the wise use of our natural resources.

For New Zealand to continue to prosper, we must learn to manage our natural resources sustainably.

After all, looking after your capital assets is sound business practice.

Increasingly a clear demand for quality is the message we are getting from the consumers of our products.

They are demanding quality products from a quality environment -- and they want evidence that we are being environmentally responsible as a nation.

But our environment is equally important to us socially and culturally, as part of what makes us New Zealanders.

We are a nation of people who love the outdoors.

Our recreational interests involve the use and enjoyment of our resources, whether we are keen on recreational fishing, spend the summer beside our rivers and coast, or enjoy tramping in the back country.

We want our grandchildren, too, to be able to enjoy these experiences.

Perception, they say, is reality. New Zealanders all stand tall when the world talks positively and enthusiastically about our beautiful 'clean green' country.

Our environment is the subject of coffee table books, calendars and television advertisements.

The world judges us by images of crisp, clean air, green and productive farmland, dazzling white mountain peaks, sparkling lakes and mountain streams, tall pine plantations and remote native forest tracks.

Selling our tourism, agricultural, horticultural and forestry products increasingly depends on this underlying 'clean green' image.

Some export industries may not be actively marketing on the basis of that image.

But in the niche and high quality markets where New Zealand seeks to position many of its products, customer willingness to buy often depends on underlying perceptions of the country and the quality of its environment, as well as consideration of a particular product or industry.

A picture-postcard image is not enough - we must be able to prove that New Zealand's environmental performance substantiates our claims.

Increasingly, we will be required to prove claims of environmental sustainability and 'clean green' production methods to international consumers, using hard factual data.

Make no mistake -- customers, even business customers, do care.

During a recent visit to New Zealand, Bjorn Stigson, the Chief Executive of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, observed that his members - 120 of the world's biggest companies - believe that moving to develop sustainable management and environmentally responsible operations is vital to the future of the world, and their own business survival.

In environmental terms - there is no longer anywhere to hide.

When we look closely at the state of New Zealand's environment, through the pages of the publication we are launching here today, it becomes clear that we have no room for complacency.

Unless we strive to make the reality match the perception, we may find that the perception is less favourable than the reality of a country which has a head start on many others in achieving a sustainable environment.

The State of New Zealand's Environment outlines the environmental impact of what has happened to our land, air and water since the first human settlers arrived -- and it also outlines some very real concerns for the future.

Since humans first settled in New Zealand, we have been putting increasing pressures on the state of our water, our land, our air, and natural assets which include a diversity of unique biological species.

We are aware of some of the effects of human pressure.

For example, New Zealand's location makes us particularly vulnerable to the thinning of the ozone layer.

The approach of El Nino again this summer reminds us that we are vulnerable to drought -- and to other changes in our climate.

But we may be less conscious of the fact that many of the species found only in New Zealand -- including our own national icon, the Kiwi -- are under threat.

New Zealand doesn't suffer from a few big sources of pollution which would be relatively easy to identify and tackle.

We have a multitude of smaller impacts: 70 million possums, 60 million head of livestock, 2.5 million cars.

While our environmental problems are less severe than in many parts of the world -- and they are less 'visible' -- they are no less real or difficult to change.

Accepting that we have problems may be the first step for many.

Put simply, this publication, and the factual evidence it contains, is a very timely warning that we cannot take our environment for granted.

Although, relative to the rest of the world, our environment is still a 'green and pleasant land', sustainable management of the environment is a long-term investment.

The Coalition Government recognises this.

We have set priorities for work during this term that will advance the key goals within the longer-term Environment 2010 Strategy.

To assist this, the Government provided in this year's Budget an additional $55 million over three years for environmental initiatives.

This recognised and built on additional funding the previous Government had provided for environmental priorities.

In recent decades the combined efforts of Central and Local Government, industry and individuals have begun to find effective ways to gain long-term results.

We now have a comprehensive framework of environmental law aimed at sustainability.

This includes the Resource Management Act, the Biosecurity Act, the Fisheries Act and the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act.

We also have other work under way on the difficult issues this report documents.

The Resource Management Act was introduced in 1991 to support levels of environmental performance and quality which will in turn, sustain New Zealand's economic well being.

There has been some criticism of the Act recently.

But the message the Government is getting from almost every sector is that the environmental principles underpinning the Act are not in question.

The concerns revolve around the apparent inconsistencies with which it has been interpreted and implemented.

Some industry representatives are particularly concerned about the cost implications of meeting environmental quality standards.

While these concerns are real, we must also remember that sustaining our environment -- a key capital asset -- involves active investment by all of us.

Good environmental performance doesn't come free.

It is an essential investment in our future.

Those who seek short cuts potentially short-change their own businesses and the community.

Finally, it is worth noting that although this report was brought together by the Ministry for the Environment, it was developed by a partnership of government and non-government agencies.

Experts from many government departments, as well as many of New Zealand's foremost scientists and technical adviser, contributed to The State of New Zealand's Environment.

There has also been valuable input from Crown Research Institutes, Local Government, state-owned enterprises and other agencies.

The wide-ranging nature of the partnership which developed this publication emphasises the fact that the responsibility for collecting and managing information about our environment rests in the hands of many players.

It will be the collaboration of those many players that will be vital in achieving sustainable management of the environment.

Each of them needs information about what is happening in the environment - we can't effectively manage what we don't know.

This report is, therefore, a timely reminder of why having sound environmental policy matters, to our economy and our lifestyle.

If we want our children and grandchildren to enjoy a clean and healthy environment and a prosperous economy based on natural resources, we need to act now.

We can use this report to help us judge what sort of future investment we must put into good environmental management.

The State of New Zealand's Environment brings us back to reality.

We have made progress, but much remains to be done -- and this is a challenge which I would like all of us to take up.

Thank you.