Looking to 2021

The 2020 election was notable for the extension that was placed upon it by the second lockdown, a lack of policy detail relative to previous elections and the extraordinary number of early votes cast - two million prior to the actual polling day.

But it is all over now and as we near the end of the year and start thinking about the next, it's interesting to contemplate the Advocacy work that Recreation Aotearoa will be undertaking in 2021.

Obviously, COVID-19 and our response to the various challenges that it brings to bear will dominate the new Governments agenda. But we can also make some educated guesses about what the new government will do in the realm of Outdoor Recreation and Outdoor Education, based in the answers they gave to the questions Recreation Aotearoa asked during the campaign.

So, what might we expect (and push for) from this new Government?

Most people working in the Outdoors sector will know that Access is a big issue and often a frustrating one. But not everyone knows that last year the Walking Access Act was reviewed and 30 recommendations, many of which require legislation, were made. You can read our submission to that review here. Subsequently, we asked each Party if they were committed to supporting the Walking Access Commission and amending the Walking Access Act in the next term of parliament.

Based on the answers of the Green Party which included "…we would move to amend the Act during our next term…" and the reasonably positive answer the Labour Party gave, we certainly have enough positive noises to work with. Recreation Aotearoa will be reminding both parties of their commitments to the WAC and an amendment of its legislation, in the near future.

It is a continual source of frustration for many of us that DOC's planning processes can't seem to keep up. Currently, seven of the 16 Conservation Management Strategies, and eight of the 13 National Park Management Plans are out of date. These documents are key determinants of how, when and where Recreation is undertaken on Public Conservation Land.

We asked each Party how they would resource and direct the Department of Conservation to review Conservation Management Strategies and National Park Management Plans within the legal time frame of every 10 years.

In response, the Labour Party pointed to the large funding increase that DoC received in the 2018 Budget. "While in government, we provided the largest funding boost for the Department of Conservation since 2002……This is allowing DOC restore its core capability and capacity, keep its statutory documents up to date, and turn around New Zealand's conservation crisis."

That is a strong answer, although we are yet to see that increase in funding result in many updated plans or strategies. Perhaps it is a work in progress.

The answer from the Green Party was more forceful and reminded us that the Green Party (now former) Minister had already started addressing this issue "…The New Zealand Conservation Authority is reviewing the way in which conservation management strategies are prepared. It needs reform so that the planning process is more agile, reviews are completed promptly, and the documents are kept under active review." This gives us enough ammo to press the issue with the new Minister of Conservation, Kiri Allan. It is an important requirement of the Conservation Act that all National Park Management Plans and Conservation Management Strategies updated within their statutory timeframes.

At Recreation Aotearoa, we often say that school camps are the 'gateway-drug' for a lifetime of outdoor recreation. Many of our members are involved in providing these seminal experiences to our tamariki and rangitahi. So, it was a no-brainer to ask: What will your Party do to ensure that every New Zealand primary school pupil is afforded the opportunity to have an overnight school camping experience in the great outdoors?

Both Labour and the Greens cited the $150 per student payment Decile 1-7 schools can receive, in exchange for not asking for donations - with the exception of donations for school camps. There were also some positive statements made about the broader benefits of School Camps and EOTC. From Labour: "Learning outside the classroom is a vital part of schooling. Every Kiwi has fond memories of school camps, field trips and days out."

Recreation Aotearoa will seek to leverage that support for EOTC and possibly utilise the school donations scheme to increase funding and opportunity for overnight school camps for our young people.

Election years only come around every three years, so the opportunity to pin-down commitments from parties is an important one to take up. Now that the dust is settling after the election and we start to see the shape of the new Government, we certainly have a few issues and commitments we can work on next year. Watch this space.

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