A report advocating changes to help DOC meet its Treaty of Waitangi obligations has been released ahead of public consultation on proposed policy changes.
The Options Development Group (ODG) report, the views of an independent panel appointed in 2020, addresses matters highlighted by the Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki Supreme Court case.
That case and others have challenged aspects of the Department of Conservation’s (DOC) decision making – particularly regarding its obligations to give effect to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, the Department said in a statement released today.
Director-General of Conservation, Penny Nelson – who started in her role late last year – says the report covers a wide range of issues and will take some time to consider.
“This report looks at how decisions about conservation should be made in Aotearoa New Zealand, and how we can reflect and honour Te Tiriti in those decisions,” she said.
“It is an honest and challenging view and it will take some time to absorb before any decisions can be made about its recommendations.
“There will be public consultation before we adopt any policy changes.”
The ODG’s primary task was to advise on how two key pieces of DOC guidance, the Conservation General Policy and the General Policy for National Parks, could be revised to better reflect Treaty of Waitangi responsibilities.
The general policies set the national direction for how DOC and others with conservation roles fulfil their responsibilities under conservation legislation.
In particular, the general policies are the foundation for statutory management planning for public conservation lands and waters, and decision-making about any activities that engage with our natural and historic heritage.
The ODG was also asked to identify limitations within DOC’s wider policy settings and legislation, and to recommend possible solutions.
“As a department we do work closely with whānau, hapū and iwi across the country and there are already a lot of good programmes underway,” said Director-General Nelson.
“However, there are also barriers and issues that tangata whenua have been raising for many years.”
She said that in some instances, such as issues around access to cultural materials, the report makes recommendations which align with work which is already underway to address them – in this case, a review of the Wildlife Act 1953.
“Any work we undertake to support policy or legislative changes will ensure wider conservation principles are protected. These include public access to public conservation land and waters, protecting ecosystems and the natural environment, fostering recreation in nature and supporting DOC’s vision and purpose.”
“In the meantime, the report’s immediate purpose is to inform the partial reviews of general policy and how DOC works in partnership with tangata whenua.
“We will be drafting proposed amended policies in due course and expect to have nationwide public consultation on them from mid-2022.
“We understand how all New Zealanders see public conservation lands and waters as central to our identity and feel strongly about how these places are managed.
“Although the ODG has given us an informed view of where we should be headed, we absolutely want to ensure there is every opportunity for all New Zealanders to have input into this process before any decisions are taken,” the Director-General said.