COMMENT: It was a stern Prime Minister responding to an allegation that one of her ministers had threatened to withhold funding from a voluntary animal evacuation organisation if it didn't stop its criticism.
Jacinda Ardern said it was "absolutely not" the behaviour she'd expect of a minister and if evidence was provided she'd be open to seeing it.
The threat allegation centres on last month's fires in the Nelson district and it was made in a Parliamentary select committee by Steve Glassey, the founder of Animal Evac NZ.
Glassey's no slug when it comes to working in disaster areas.
He was involved in disaster response management after the Samoan tsunami, the typhoons in the Philippines and Laos and the Christchurch earthquakes.
His volunteers came from all over the country to assist in the Nelson fires but were initially stood down along with other specialist teams by the Ministry for Primary Industries - despite the fire raging out of control.
Meanwhile farmers were desperate and frustrated by what they saw as bureaucratic red tape.
They wanted to find out what was happening to their stock.
After initially being rejected, Glassey and his team were invited back by MPI to do their stuff as things got worse.
He says the ministry was subsequently invoiced for $5000 to cover their costs but the bill was sent back to sender and he can only assume it was because he'd been critical of the system and the way it operated.
As it is, his organisation wanted to work on the National Disaster Resilience Strategy to put in place a better system in the future.
MPI Minister Damien O'Connor had a word in his ear, in the presence of a volunteer, that he should be more positive about how the system was working and in the same breath is alleged to have talked about future funding.
As he was driving away, Glassey is insistent O'Connor leaned out a passenger window and told him that "you can't go riding us and then come to us for funding".
O'Connor was quite up front about his conversation with Glassey but seemed to dig himself deeper into the hole he was trying to extract himself from.
He told the animal rescuer it's really important to be positive "when we're trying to negotiate a better deal with him".
O'Connor says Glassey going around criticising MPI staff at every opportunity, when everyone's doing their best, isn't a productive way to go forward.
Threat or no threat?
As the Prime Minister has often told us, read between the lines.
Ministry for Primary Industries responds
Mr Glassey of Animal Evac was reported as claiming his volunteers "were initially stood down along with other specialist teams by the Ministry for Primary Industries - despite the fire raging out of control."
His was one of several agencies invited to support the response to the fires, along with the SPCA National Rescue Unit, HUHA and Massey University's Veterinary Emergency Response Team.
During times of intense fire activity, it was considered unsafe for anyone to enter the fire zone, even to save an animal, so all agencies were put on standby while the nature of the fire and human safety were assessed.
All other agencies and staff involved accepted this safety measure. Mr Glass
ey was also quoted saying Animal Evac invoiced MPI for $5,000 to cover costs, " but the bill was sent back ... he can only assume it was because he'd been critical...."
This is not a correct reflection of the situation. MPI had advised Mr Glassey that the Ministry is looking to support funding for services delivered in the response and that
he would receive further information on this, and also that funding would be discussed at a national meeting to which Mr Glassey is already invited.
During the response, all support agencies were informed they could seek reimburse
ment for travel and accommodation costs through Nelson Tasman Civil Defence Emergency Management. This is not MPI's role.
However MPI can help facilitate this process. A strong emergency response relies on good planning, good interagency relationships, and good systems – at central government, at regional level and on the ground.
Along with the agencies already mentioned, local SPCAs and their volunteers, many
local community members who pitched in or donated supplies, Rural Support Trusts and Federated Farmers all did an outstanding job in this response, all coordinated through MPI.
We thank them all for working together and working safely to achieve the best outcomes for the affected animals, their owners, and the wider affected communities.
Dr Chris Rodwell
Director, Animal Health & Welfare
Ministry for Primary Industries