Minister in firing line again

By Simon Hendery

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Before and after images showing how the proposed Ruataniwha dam would affect the Central Hawke's Bay landscape. Dr Smith is again accused of influencing DoC's submission. Images/Supplied.
Before and after images showing how the proposed Ruataniwha dam would affect the Central Hawke's Bay landscape. Dr Smith is again accused of influencing DoC's submission. Images/Supplied.

Conservation Minister Nick Smith has again been accused in Parliament of inappropriately influencing DoC's submission on the Ruataniwha dam proposal.

The Green Party says a newly-released email from a Department of Conservation staff member to the department's deputy director general "highlights the implausibility" of the Minister's ongoing assertion that he did not influence DoC's decision to scrap a draft submission that was highly critical of the proposed water storage scheme for Central Hawke's Bay.

In the email, released under the Official Information Act, the staff member tells deputy director general Doris Johnston that department staff "will not be able to provide many authorised comments/stance as we will still be waiting for guidance from our minister" in regards to a forthcoming meeting with agencies on the Ruataniwha scheme.

The scheme, promoted by Hawke's Bay Regional Council, is currently before a board of inquiry to decide whether it should be granted resource consent.

Over the past few months Dr Smith has been questioned repeatedly in Parliament over whether he had any influence in DoC's decision to scrap its initial critical draft submission in favour of the neutral submission it ultimately presented to the board. He has consistently denied having any influence on the submission and in October speaker David Carter dismissed a breach of privileges complaint laid by Labour over the matter.

But Green Party water spokesperson Eugenie Sage said yesterday the latest email made it "increasingly hard to believe the Minister's claims" that he had not had any influence on the department's submission.

In Parliament yesterday Dr Smith referred to an earlier statement by Dr Johnston on the matter where she said: "The Minister did not play any role in my decision making. He gave no direction. He never told me his view."

Dr Smith said documents released by the department showed "before the department even met with me there was a departmental senior official recommending a neutral submission".

While he had requested to see the submission, it was "absolutely proper" for a minister to ask his department to provide a copy of a submission before a board of inquiry, and an explanation as to its contents.

"I would love to show the member the hundreds of pages of submissions that were approved by previous Ministers under the Labour Government on equivalent boards of inquiry," he said.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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