Martyn Dunne: Unsupported claims on Ministry for Primary Industries doesn't do anybody any favours

By Martyn Dunne

Primary Industry Minister Nathan Guy. Photo / Warren Buckland
Primary Industry Minister Nathan Guy. Photo / Warren Buckland

Rachel Stewart's column in Wednesday's Herald, "Path of destruction and dim-wittedness" painted the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) as standing for "everything wrong with this country".

Of course, Stewart is entitled to her opinion and we expect strong scrutiny, but the organisation she has described is not the one I see when I come to work every day. This ministry is made up of hard-working New Zealanders doing their best to serve the public in often difficult circumstances at the border, on the seas, and on the land.

We are one of the Government's biggest regulatory agencies. The matters we deal with - fishing, animal welfare, food safety and biosecurity to name a few - are complex. Perspectives on them are broad, and the issues are seldom black and white.

I can say with absolute certainty that the people of MPI work through them all in good faith and with integrity and with the interests of New Zealand at heart.

This ministry has a record of taking hard and sometimes unpopular decisions because it's the right thing to do.

One notion forwarded in the article is that MPI takes it easy on commercial fishers. That is pretty hard to sustain if you look at the facts.

There will be some fishers who won't want cameras on board their vessels to observe and record what they do but we are proposing to have them on all commercial fishing vessels.

Another example: we have closed thousands of hectares of ocean to certain types of fishing to protect Hector's and Maui dolphin, again, against the wishes of sections of the commercial fishing industry.

The column made a personal attack on two senior MPI staff, saying that they left as a result of a review of a decision not to take a fisheries prosecution. I said at the time, and I will repeat now, that claim is absolutely untrue. They both provided exemplary service to MPI and to New Zealand. They have recently taken up senior roles elsewhere and their moves have no relation with the review.

The column repeated unfounded and untrue claims by an international NGO that MPI officials somehow covered up the death of a Maui's dolphin in 2012. This is a serious and untrue allegation. It is not surprising then that the German-based organisation which originally made the claim has not been able to produce any compelling evidence to support it.

The fact is we have a strong fisheries management system and overall NZ's fisheries are in good shape. Could there be improvement? Of course, and we are at work on a programme of activity called The Future of our Fisheries which will modernise and future-proof our system.

One aspect of The Future of our Fisheries is the acceleration of an integrated electronic monitoring and reporting system, known as IEMRS, for commercial fishers, which will install GPS technology, real-time electronic catch reporting and video cameras on all commercial vessels.

IEMRS will mean being out of sight of land will no longer mean being out of sight of MPI. It will be a powerful deterrent to illegal discarding of fish and will provide valuable information for fisheries management decisions.

The column also made the assertion that MPI is not enforcing the Animal Welfare Act in relation to bobby calves. This is incorrect. We know how important animal welfare is and we take it seriously. Where there is evidence of abuse, we investigate and take appropriate action.

The most recent criticism of MPI in relation to bobby calves is that we were provided footage of abuse but have "done nothing". In fact, MPI began a thorough and methodical investigation after receiving this footage and a decision on prosecution is imminent. We would hope that Stewart and others might begin to provide the same level of scrutiny to claims of activists that they do to MPI.

When you work with the kinds of issues MPI deals with, there will be criticism.

I am always looking for ways for us to do our job more effectively. But there is one thing I am absolutely clear about and that is the honesty and integrity with which we go about our work.

Factual criticism we are always open to. Scrutiny is an expected and welcome part of public service. However, vitriolic repetition of incorrect information, unsubstantiated claims and personal attack does nobody any favours.

Martyn Dunne is Director-General of the Ministry for Primary Industries.

- NZ Herald

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