The Government move to set up a crown-owned company to control predators is further evidence of the way the Key Government is subtly bringing the private sector and non-governmental organisations more and more into carrying out functions traditionally undertaken by Government departments.

Some cynics have dubbed the Government approach “creeping privatisation”.

The Predator Free 2050 Project will combine the resources of lead government agencies the Department of Conservation and the Ministry for Primary Industries to work in partnership with local communities, iwi and non-governmental and private sector organisations to set up a new public-private partnership company by the beginning of 2017 to help fund regional large-scale predator eradication programmes.

The idea is modelled on the Crown Fibre Holdings entity which is a Crown-owned company with a single goal — the installation of ultra-fast broadband around the country.

Predator Free’s goal will be to have New Zealand predator free by 2050.

Predator Free New Zealand Limited will have a board of directors made up of government, private sector, and scientific players. The board’s job will be to work on each regional project with iwi and community conservation groups and attract $2 of private sector and local government funding for every $1 of government funding. 

Four goals for 2025 have been set for the project:

  • An additional 1 million hectares of land where pests have been suppressed or removed through Predator Free New Zealand partnerships
  • Development of a scientific breakthrough capable of removing at least one small mammalian predator from New Zealand entirely
  • Demonstrate areas of more than 20,000 hectares can be predator-free without the use of fences
  • Complete removal of all introduced predators from offshore island nature reserves

Conservationist Sir Rob Fenwick says he believes the proposal is a game changer.

“If we are to get any chance of winning the war against these predators, we are going to need all the resources that the Government can give us and we are going to need almost a military style strategy to pull all the forces together,” he said.

Sir Rob believes that Predator Free NZ will be able to pull together what is currently a highly fragmented approach to predator extermination.

And he says non-Governmental and private sector organisations are ready for it and willing to put money on the table to be matched by the Government.

“I know that the Next Foundation and Stephen Tyndall and others are up for that,” he said.

He also believes the idea marks a change in Department of Conservation Thinking.

“I see Predator Free NZ having an independent board tat ios accountable for delivering the best bang for the buck and they’ll keep it out of DOC,” he said.

“They will want to hold somebody accountable for its success.

“This is also DOC saying we can’t do this by ourselves and that used to be their mantra, which they could.

“You know, they used to say they were the only people who knew anything about conservation and everybody else could butt out.

“And that served them very poorly.”

The Green Party, however, was critical of the proposal.

“The $28 million the Government is initially investing to make New Zealand predator-free is a drop in the bucket of what is really needed,” said the party’s conservation spokesman, Kevin Hague.

“Auckland University estimate it will cost $9 billion to make New Zealand predator free.

“To make Stewart Island predator free will cost between $6 million to $25 million alone. 

“The Government seems happy to once again put out the begging bowl to the private sector to fund what should be taken care of by the Government.”

But given the Government’s overall fiscal objectives it was never going to be able to find the amount of money Mr Hague is talking about.

Sir Rob Fenwick takes a much more optimistic view.

“The sum of money is not enormous, but through this leverage process it can be very significant and it might be the most important day for DOC since it was formed 25 years ago.”