Gareth Morgan on Awaroa Beach


Kiwis have generously got behind a campaign to buy 7 hectares of beach and scrub, with the aim to fold it into the Abel Tasman National Park. So far the campaign has raised over $1.3m, attracting over 20,000 donors. Even Stuff has got behind the campaign, no doubt sensing that this foray into campaign journalism could yield them more clicks.

It’s a great campaign and so far 22,457 Kiwis have pledged $1.42 million to purchase the land to donate to the conservation estate.

Over the weekend, Andrew Little has suggested that the public purse could pick up the balance of the fundraising – currently at least $650,000 – given we have no idea what the other bids in the tender are. There is no doubt it is a popular campaign, and fair enough to the donors – after all people can decide to spend their money however they like.  But it doesn’t follow at all that this project is an appropriate way to spend public money. Before any politician commits taxpayer’s money to any project they should think beyond the kudos of the publicity and be sure it is the most beneficial – and hence responsible  – way to spend the next million of other people’s (i.e.; taxpayer’s) money.

It is the norm before any public money is spent for the Treasury to give advice on the value for money that the spend offers. To let politicians to just spray taxpayers’ property around like confetti is a recipe for disaster. While running on their gut political instincts is their natural predisposition, any politician who expects tenure needs to be a bit above that.

I’d be more impressed if Little had pledged his own money to the campaign, instead of demanding taxpayers be forced to fund it. Nothing kills a great community spirit more than politicians trying to muscle into the action and claim credit.

DOC has already said that the land is too expensive at $2m for them to invest. Quite rightly they have done their sums and there are other projects that give infinitely more return to the ecological estate than a piece of sandspit.

We all know DOC has plenty of land in its portfolio and can’t look after the estate it has already. The true conservation dividend it can earn comes from killing stuff – eliminating predators so that our native species can flourish. It does not come from buying more hectares that it can’t protect. Predator free zones are our best investment in conservation.

I agree.

Finally here’s an offer. I will make up the difference between the crowd-funding amount and the tender offer of $2m. I will guarantee that the public have access to the same extent that the current owner has kindly bestowed. But I will go further than that. I will undertake to give the property to DOC once my family has finished enjoying it. But I expect something in return – I want to use the property for my own private benefit meanwhile, just as the current owner does.1

That way we don’t have politicians irresponsibly spending taxpayer funds, there is no risk of public access to this threatened sand-spit being denied, and the beach is guaranteed to end up in public ownership.

I can do this because it’s my money. That’s a big difference from politicians generously promising to spend you money on such folly. What do you say taxpayers – sound like a deal to save you money?

It is a generous offer. However I’m not sure one can combine the public appeal with this offer. People have pledged their donations for a very specific purpose – to donate immediately to the conservation estate. While many donors may be willing to accept Morgan’s offer, there would need to be some mechanism for people who have donated to withdraw if they don’t want to have it done this way.

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