Labour targets 'ecological disaster'

David Cunliffe.
David Cunliffe.
Labour says it would spend $20 million over the next 10 years to stop the spread of Kauri dieback disease.

"We are facing an ecological disaster with over 11 per cent of the Kauri trees in the Waitakere Ranges infected and thousands of trees killed by the disease," Labour leader David Cunliffe said today.

Kauri dieback was discovered in the Whangapoua forest in the Coromandel last month and it is prevalent in the forests of Northland, and Great Barrier Island.

"Unless we act to stop its spread, this iconic New Zealand species could be wiped out," Mr Cunliffe said.

Labour's pledge of $20 million, supported by funding from councils and other sources, would allow a programme of around $30 million to extend measures to Northland and the Waikato," Mr Cunliffe said.

Kauri dieback disease was last month discovered in the Coromandel - a development that was described as "serious blow" to efforts to protect the species.

Test results have shown the presence of Phytophthora taxon Agathis (PTA) or Kauri dieback disease in the Whangapoua Forest, just north of Whitianga - the first confirmed case in Kauri-rich Coromandel.

Until now, the soil-borne disease has been limited to Northland, the Waitakere Ranges and on Great Barrier Island.

Kauri dieback disease is caused by a microscopic, fungus-like organism which infects the trees' roots and damages the tissues that carry nutrients and water within the tree, effectively starving the tree to death.

Nearly all infected trees die and there is no known cure, though research is currently underway.

The Government has been criticised for a lack of support and funding commitment in fighting kauri dieback disease. Last year four regional councils made a plea to Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy for more funding.

MPI has funded 80 per cent of a $5.5 million five-year programme to control the killer disease.

  Conservation Minister Nick Smith has dismissed the Labour pledge, saying he made it clear last month that the Government would be increasing funding in this year's Budget for controlling kauri dieback.

Labour's pledge now was late and lazy, Dr Smith said.

"Mr Cunliffe's call today is hypocritical given he sat in the Cabinet room in 2007 and 2008 when the then-Labour Government declined requests by the Auckland Council for funding to control the disease," he said.

"This Government provided funding of $4.7 million in our 2009 Budget for a period of five years, which runs until June this year.

''In 2013, the kauri dieback programme Keep Kauri Standing was independently reviewed. Following this review the Minister for Primary Industries and I lodged a Budget bid for new and additional funding last November and last month I confirmed that this additional funding would be forthcoming. The details of this will be announced in Budget 2014 on 15 May."


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