Speech to the NEXT Foundation Sunset Celebration

It's my pleasure to be here with you all tonight as we acknowledge the significant generosity and achievements of all those involved with the NEXT Foundation. 

Neal and Annette Plowman – your commitment to the protection and enhancement of conservation efforts in Aotearoa is inspirational on a uniquely big scale. 

The fact that you were the 2018 Kea World Class New Zealand Supreme Award winners speaks volumes. 

Neal with a passion for business and conservation and Annette with a passion for business and education, focused your expertise on strategic philanthropy which has contributed to a legacy of conservation and education transformation in Aotearoa. 

I remember reading about Springboard and the exemplary mahi you were doing with education leaders. 

Scaling up from the 82-hectare Rātāroa Island in the Hauraki Gulf to almost 23,000 hectares in the Abel Tasman National Park with Project Janszoon in 2012, we have seen remarkable results. 

For the Department of Conservation, Tangata Whenua and the communities adjoining the national park, I understand this to have been the beginning of a remarkable partnership with the Plowman’s and the NEXT Foundation.  

I’d like to share two key reflections with this approach: 

Firstly, the gains achieved through such significant targeted philanthropic investment has been transformational.  

Having the scope to trial and learn has enabled us to work at scales previously not feasible.  

The 310,000 hectares Te Manahuna Aoraki in the Mackenzie Country for example.  

Secondly, it has created an exceptional level of community ownership.  

In Taranaki, the Taranaki Mounga Project is a community-owned programme involving Tangata Whenua, community, business, philanthropy, local and central government.  

In the Abel Tasman, the connection of schools to Project Janszoon is future-proofing the community ownership through the voice of rangatahi.  

The Zero Invasive Predator initiative – probably better known here as ZIP - is an example of the innovation that will enable us to progress towards our goals in Predator Free 2050.  

NEXT Foundation and other private and public investors have backed this approach.  

It is enabling us to learn how to eliminate possums, rats, and mustelids from large areas, but most importantly, how to defend these areas against predator reinvasion. We are watching the results of the 100,000ha trial site closely to see what can be achieved. 

Large scale conservation enables the strengths of many to focus on the work that is needed, leveraging effort and investment to achieve all that we can. 

The learning and collaboration, working across land tenures and private and public sectors is a legacy in its own right. It has further shown how nature can respond when we can ease the pressures on it.  

So what NEXT? Challenges with climate change and biodiversity decline are confronting. The number of critically threatened species in Aotearoa is a big list and time is against us. 

The department must sharpen its focus onto what matters most for biodiversity, our special places and iconic landscapes, as well as key visitor destinations and heritage assets. 

We must be certain we are putting our resources into the things that matter most. That we are concentrating on high value conservation domains, areas, habitats and species - and the associated costs. 

It’s about setting clear priorities based on evidence-based arguments, that focus on co-funding and partnering, devolution and divestment options. 

Key to this will be clarifying what really are high conservation value areas and tilting our energy toward these areas. 

It’s essential we ensure Te Tiriti o Waitangi responsibilities are effectively met, and that the value of these relationships are realised. 

This means strengthening effective partnerships with Iwi and Hapū, building relationships that benefit conservation but also deliver cultural, social and economic and employment benefits, such as we are seeing in the Taranaki Maunga and Raukūmara projects. 

We need to be increasingly innovative when it comes to generating and activating inflows and resources for enabling sustainable conservation efforts for Aotearoa. 

The department’s success with the NEXT Foundation, and other initiatives like the Jobs for Nature work, illustrate the strength that comes when we partner with others from different sectors on conservation efforts. 

We will also manufacture a better revenue model for access and use of New Zealand’s pristine conservation estate. 

We will improve the productivity of the conservation regulatory system by establishing clear targets that drive the department’s ability to deliver, such as sharpening the concession process. 

I don’t want more bureaucracy or 'vetocracy' in our mahi. 

There is ample room for all of us to show how kaitiakitanga and conservation can not only co-exist - but must thrive together successfully alongside our desire to be an advanced economy located brilliantly between Hawaii and Antarctica. 

Where 72% of birds, 81% of insects, 100% of reptiles/frogs/bats, and 88% of freshwater fish are endemic to New Zealand – found nowhere else on Earth. 

Neal and Annette, you have helped us plot a remarkable course for conservation in Aotearoa. 

My deepest thanks to you both and all those who have been involved in the lasting achievements of the NEXT Foundation. 

Tēnā korua, tēnā tātou, tēnā koutou katoa.