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Sage reflections before bidding Beehive farewell

During her visit to Wairarapa to discuss predator control this week, outgoing Green Party list MP Eugenie Sage took time out with the Times-Age to reflect on her 12 years in parliament.

In her time as MP, Eugenie Sage has served as Minister of Conservation and was Associate Minister for the Environment from 2017 to 2020.

She is currently chair of the Parliamentary Select Committee for the Environment, a member of the Regulations Review Committee, and the Green Party spokesperson for conservation, the environment, and a host of other issues.

“It is four terms, but it has gone in a flash. It does go quickly,” she said.

The initial six of Sage’s 12-year stint were spent in opposition, but she claims a range of achievements since 2017.

Getting increased funding for the Department of Conservation as well as the ‘Jobs for Nature’ programme are two of the party’s biggest successes during her time in parliament, she said.

Jobs for Nature is a $1.2 billion programme across multiple government agencies aimed at benefiting the environment, people, and the regions, and was announced as part of the government’s covid recovery package.

Sage said Wairarapa people involved in local environmental recovery in organisations like Wairarapa Pukaha to Kawakawa [WaiP2K] and predator-free activity across the region have benefitted from the funding.

“The difference that Jobs for Nature has made is in terms of providing funding to enable people who may not have been that connected with nature to learn practical skills – trapping, weed control, and riparian planting – to connect with nature, and give nature a helping hand,” she said.

Sage said it has helped set people up to get a fulltime job in that area because of the experience and skills they have learnt.

She counted the biggest addition to a national park [Kahurangi, in the South Island], changes to conservation legislation to benefit indigenous freshwater fish, passing the Crown Pastoral Lands Act, and the ban on single-use plastic bags among other notable party achievements during her parliamentary political career.

But she cautioned that New Zealand still has significant environmental work to do.

“In waste, we are way behind the rest of the world,” she said.

“The landfill levy is our only environmental tax, and all the money gets recycled into waste minimisation.

“We have a clean, green, 100 per cent pure reputation that the tourism industry has used to market Aotearoa. But there is a complacency among New Zealanders, and we do not live up to that reputation in so many ways, “ Sage said, citing water pollution as one example.

“Because we are a biodiversity hotspot, with a lot of species only found here in Aotearoa, and because of our huge history of habitat destruction, in the brief 750–800 years humans have been in Aotearoa, and the introduction of mammalian predators, we have got a lot of work to do.”

Sage said there is a nature crisis in New Zealand, as well as a climate crisis.

“We have a long way to go. But things like predator-free and all the work and capacity Celia has in this space is one of the really inspiring things about the change in people’s relationship with nature, and people’s preparedness to give nature a helping hand,” she said, referring to Wairarapa Green Party candidate Celia Wade-Brown.

Wade-Brown, a former mayor of Wellington, is currently involved in the region’s predator-free initiative, as well as managing her own large block of land back into its original natural state.

Sage and Wade-Brown agreed the predator-free effort has united a range of people from all walks of life across Wairarapa and New Zealand more generally.

“There are a lot of individuals, farmers, and owners of lifestyle blocks who are increasingly protecting wildlife, and are interested in wildlife,” Wade-Brown said, adding that communities have united at a local level to address the issue.

Sage said after leaving parliament this year, she expects to spend more time with family, as well as on conservation or waste focussed work – and doing some long-postponed walking trips.

“There’s a whole series of great walks I haven’t had a great deal of time to do over the last 12 years,” she said.

A case in point is the Paparoa Track in the South Island, which Sage opened in 2019 when she was Minister of Conservation.

“I opened it but didn’t get time to actually walk it,” she laughed. “So yes, that is on the list.”

– NZLDR

    Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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