17 May 2024: Read the NZCA 's submission to the Science System Advisory Group: Phase 1

The Legislative Basis for the New Zealand Conservation Authority’s submission

  1. The New Zealand Conservation Authority / Te Pou Atawhai Taiao o Aotearoa (Authority, NZCA) is established under the Conservation Act 1987 (Act), with members appointed by the Minister of Conservation. It is an independent statutory body with a range of functions, but primarily acts as an independent conservation advisor to the Minister and the Director-General of Conservation.
  2. The Authority has a role as an objective advocate on matters of national significance and interest in the conservation arena and to provide high quality independent advice to the Department of Conservation (Department, DOC) on its strategic direction and performance.
  3. The Authority has a range of powers and functions, under the Act, as well as under other conservation related legislation. Under the Act (section 6C(2)(c) refers) the Authority has the power to “advocate the interests of the Authority at any public forum or in any statutory planning process.”
  4. Following the logic of the above powers and functions, the Authority submits to the Science System Advisory Group, Phase 1.

NZCA Submission

  1. The Authority’s submission is based on its analysis of a range of reports including those listed in the Reference section at the end of this submission, and the professional experience of its members working within the science sector.

Background and Context

  1. The NZCA has a strong interest in the effectiveness of the NZ science system. Robust science is critical for planning and decision-making for the care of our natural environments and for the protection and conservation of biodiversity, habitats and ecosystems across all domains (marine, freshwater and terrestrial), as well as the interconnected importance and diversity of ecosystem services (provisioning, regulating, cultural services and supporting services) upon which we all depend.
  2. The NZCA considers that it is essential that NZ has a connected, resilient and adaptable modern science system. In our view the experimentation with the NZ science system over the past 30 years has not served the nation well and has led to many significant and potentially enduring issues that need to be addressed. To name some of the major issues:
  • under-funding
  • the lack of focus on the strategic needs of NZ Inc
  • lack of recognition and support for key infrastructure, and science capability
  • inequalities associated with not honouring the Treaty in a meaningful way
  • the lack of career structure at all stages of the science career pathway
  • excessively high transaction costs associated with bidding for research funding
  • institutional structures that result in excessively high overheads being charged to clients (public and private)
  • translation of research results and implementation pathways are not facilitated by the current structures or funding systems

NZCA wishes to emphasise the need for increased investment in science and research – this is not a cost but rather brings wide ranging benefits. NZ spends much less on research than similar economies internationally. Preparing new strategies and science priorities, restructuring science organisations, and changing the funding and delivery mechanisms, will not achieve the outcomes needed without associated resourcing and support.

  1. NZCA is concerned that the science funding mechanisms that predominate at present do not give priority to areas where research is required for robust policy development and implementation by government departments/agencies (central and local) and mana whenua.

From the perspective of the NZCA, the inability of the priorities of departments and agencies to meaningfully influence the allocation of research funding, through mechanisms such as the Endeavour Fund and Smart Ideas tools, is a significant problem.

We agree with the comments by Gluckman (2013) “Given that many of the most important decisions that must be taken by any government will relate to matters of resource allocation and risk assessment, the current lack of protocols for commissioning or generating evidence-informed advice across government is of concern and runs contrary to best practices internationally.” This has not been addressed more than a decade on.

  1. NZCA considers that the current science system, associated funding arrangements, and short-term contracts for most science activities (1-3 years), incentivise fragmentation and unproductive competition and do not enable adaptation to meet changing national needs.
  2. Over the past 30 years various initiatives have been introduced to prioritise science needs and develop strategies. These have not been successful for a range of reasons, one of which has been the absence of cross-party agreement on support for science and how the sector should be structured and funded. The publication of the National Statement of Science Investment 2015-2025 (2015) has appeared to have had little influence on outcomes for science practitioners or agencies/organisations reliant on scientific data, analyses, evidence-based advice.

Strategies developed for specific sectors [e.g. the Royal Society Te Apārangi report on Taxonomic Collections and Databases (2015), Biosecurity 2025 (2016), Conservation and Environment Science Roadmap (2017), Te Mana o Te Taiao /Aotearoa New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy (2020)] have also struggled to be actioned/realised because they have not been accompanied by the funding, or the political leadership or will to realign organisations, structure the science system, and /or develop appropriate funding tools/mechanisms to enable the strategies to be effective. The translation from strategy statements to implementation has not been seen.

Responses to Selected Questions

  1. What future should be envisaged for a publicly supported science, innovation and technology systems?

A publicly supported science, innovation and technology system should provide critical research capability that is essential to New Zealand’s functioning as a country, e.g.: research on our unique marine and terrestrial biota (including support for taxonomic collections and databases with their associated taxonomic expertise), geology, and cultural context; ongoing research into biosecurity threats, infectious diseases, plant and animal diseases; underpinning research and monitoring resources such as weather and climate services, geophysical and seismic monitoring, environmental monitoring (of state and condition).

It is critically important that there is access for all NZers to the results of publicly supported research – extending from underpinning research through to innovative solutions for issues facing the country. These data are essential for a wide range of agencies and organisations reliant on scientific data, analyses, and evidence-based advice.

  1. What are the opportunities, challenges and barriers that need to be addressed to build a more thriving research, science, innovation, and technology system that delivers positive sustainable growth and prosperity for New Zealand?

NZ has environmental responsibilities at national and international scales. NZCA is particularly focused on the need for biodiversity and environmental research to be resourced within the country. We have NZ-specific issues that cannot be obtained by “buying in” advice from international specialists. In order to be responsive to the two existential crises we are facing, namely climate change and biodiversity loss, we need to be developing approaches that meet the specific challenges we are facing here. It is NZ’s responsibility to document its flora and fauna, and understand ecosystem functioning within the unique habitats and environments within our archipelago.

2b. How can they contribute to developing innovative solutions to emerging challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and societal health?

The science system is able to prepare NZ for the changing future we face if it is appropriately funded to do so. Societal health is dependent on a variety of factors, two of which are climate change and biodiversity challenges. While there are many options for research (e.g. focused on developing resilience to climate change impacts, and reversing the decline of biodiversity), there is a need for coherent national strategies and approaches. These need to recognise the importance of long-term and underpinning science and data analyses to enable decisions makers at all levels (central and local government, environmental managers for iwi, community groups), to respond in informed ways - to enable evidence-based decision making.

2d. How can the Government’s effectiveness be enhanced using scientific data, knowledge, and new technologies?

At present the management, accessibility of environmental data are far from ideal. Issues associated with this have been highlighted in several reports prepared by the PCE who has made a number of key recommendations (refer 2019, 2020, 2022 reports). Improved access to data and analyses offers potential savings in time and resources, and more timely responses to critical issues.

As noted earlier there have been a number of strategic reviews of parts of the science sector that have considered national science and research needs to enhance central government decision making and effective resource management – but these strategies have not been resourced or implemented.

3b. What are the barriers between publicly funded research entities (especially universities and Crown Research Institutes (CRI)), and in turn how can we facilitate closer partnerships between them, the private sector, government agencies and communities including hāpori Māori?

We consider the competition that now exists between universities and Crown Research Institutes and other research institutes (such as Cawthron, Callaghan) in many cases is not helpful for wider science outcomes for NZ, and leads to unnecessary additional costs, processes and inefficiencies. 

3c. How should the science, innovation, and technology system embrace and reflect the growing diversity of culture and peoples in New Zealand and the contributions of Māori as reflected in the Treaty / te Tiriti?

We consider the recommendations of ‘Te Pūhahitanga: a Tiriti-led Science-Policy Approach for Aotearoa New Zealand’ address key areas to support the operationalisation of Te Tiriti.

The Authority acknowledges the current science system is 30 years old, and while there have been some improvements in the past 5-10 years there are still major issues that need to be addressed to advance Tiriti partnerships in science, grow Māori researchers, address knowledge gaps, and increase Māori capability across the science system. The current science structure and funding lacks coherency, and the fragmentation militates against effective Māori engagement and influence at a governance and design level.

  1. What is the role of public research organisations such as Crown Research Institutes (CRIs) in the New Zealand context?

From the NZCA’s perspective, CRIs often appear to be function primarily as profit driven consultancies rather than in the interests of the wider NZ public. The major NZ museums - Te Papa (funded by MCH) and metropolitan museums (funded largely by rate payers) - do meet our understanding of public research institutions.

The Crown Research Act states that “research undertaken by a Crown Research Institute should be undertaken for the benefit of New Zealand” yet in the current environment it appears that commercial drivers are far more significant that the interests of the country as a whole.

National interests are very vulnerable to the decisions made at the level of individual science institutions with significant tensions between national interests/public good and commercial drivers for CRIs.  As an example, at their establishment, the CRIs (particularly Manaaki Whenua, NIWA and SCION) were tasked with caring for and maintaining taxonomic collections, databases and the associated biosystematic expertise – these are fundamental, underpinning science and associated resources (infrastructure) on which many government decisions are based. Currently NIWA is proposing to lay off members of the biodiversity/taxonomy team - the only team in NZ funded to conduct discovery research on the marine biota. The justification for the disestablishment has been based on economic arguments and a perceived lack of economic opportunities associated with invertebrate taxonomy.

In fact accurate identification of the fauna is critically important for the delivery of a wide range of ecological and biosecurity projects. This role is filled by the only taxonomist in New Zealand able to identify sponges and conduct critical biosystematics research on this very diverse group of marine invertebrates. This scientist’s research and expert skills are essential for a range of projects, including for example, providing identifications for the Marine Invasives Taxonomic Service; evaluating the impacts of fishing and bottom trawling; identification of fishing by-catch; identification of vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) and other marine habitats that warrant further protection; environmental impact reporting (for example, impacts of proposed new pipelines, mining and petroleum exploration); contributing to regional coastal plans; contributing to iwi environmental plans; habitat mapping; providing threat classification evaluations for the Department of Conservation.

NZCA is concerned about examples such as this where it appears that concern about profit overrides national interests.

4b. Are public research organisations too isolated from higher education?

There are many international examples of tertiary education and science/research agencies (including museums) working together very effectively with beneficial outcomes for students and for teaching and research programmes, research organisations.

Other issues of concern

  1. In addition to the matters raised above, and the limited space available for a submission, the NZCA has also identified the following areas of concern:
    • R & D tax credits
    • opportunities for genuine business/science collaboration on research on areas such as tourism, the impacts of hunting etc.
    • work force issues such as the need for fellowships, bridging projects to enable retention of early career scientists, etc., and
    • the need for support for community engagement and contributions to science -and the importance of engaging with community to get societal understanding and support.



Biosecurity 2025 (2015). Direction Statement for New Zealand’s biosecurity system. MPI.

Department of Conservation. (2021). Te Mana o Te Taiao - Aotearoa New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy 2020. 73 pp.

Gluckman, P. (2013). Interpreting science – implications for public understanding, advocacy and policy formation. A discussion paper. Office of the Prime Minister’s Science Advisory Committee.

Kukutai, T., McIntosh, T., Boulton, A., Durie, M., Foster, M., Hutchings, J., Mark-Shadbolt, M., Moewaka Barnes, H., Moko-Mead, T., Paine, S-J., Pitama, S. & Ruru, J. (2021). Te Pūtahitanga: A Tiriti-led science policy approach for Aotearoa New Zealand. Auckland: Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga. ISBN 978-0-473-57158-0.

Ministry for the Environment and Department of Conservation. 2017. Conservation and Environment Science Roadmap. Wellington: Ministry for the Environment and Department of Conservation. 78 pp.

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. (2015). National Statement of Science Investment 2015-2025. 77 pp.

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. (2020). Te Pae Kahurangi: Positioning Crown Research Institutes to collectively and respectively meet New Zealand’s current and future needs.

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. (2021) paper Te Ara Paerangi Future Pathways

Nelson, W.A., Breitwieser, I., Fordyce, E., Bradford-Grieve, J., Penman, D., Roskruge, N., Trnski, T., Waugh, S., Webb, C.J. (2015). National Taxonomic Collections in NewZealand. Royal Society of New Zealand. 63 pp. + Appendices (66 pp) ISBN 978-1-877317-12-5

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. (2019). Focusing Aotearoa New Zealand’s environmental reporting system. Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Wellington. 106 pp.

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. (2020). A review of the funding and prioritisation of environmental research in New Zealand.

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. (2022). Environmental reporting, research, and investment: Do we know if we're making a difference?

Taxonomy Decadal Plan Working Group (2018). Discovering Diversity: A decadal plan for taxonomy and biosystematics in Australia and New Zealand 2018–2028 (Australian Academy of Science and Royal Society Te Apārangi: Canberra and Wellington)

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