The Green Party has called on National leader Simon Bridges to come clean on what it claims was collusion between the former government and oil and gas companies, following a report by the State Services Commission on the use of private investigators by government agencies.
The State Services Commission report found the "very close relationship" between the government's exploration regulator and Thompson & Clark Investigations Ltd (TCIL) led the agency to become involved in surveillance activity involving the Greens and Mana Party.
MBIE's New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals (NZP&M) unit had demonstrated "poor regulatory practice" by adopting an "uncritical" and "problematic" approach to surveillance of environmental activists, the inquiry led by Doug Martin of consultancy Martin Jenkins and Simon Mount QC concluded.
"Simon Bridges said he didn't direct the public servants to do anything. It is pretty hard to fathom that he had no idea what his department was doing," Greens co-leader Marama Davidson said today.
"We now have a very serious problem and very serious questions that Simon Bridges has to answer," Davidson said in a statement.
"We must see the end of the Mineral Exploration Joint Intelligence Group and Simon Bridges must be own up to his involvement".
Bridges dismissed Davidson's claims as "nonsense".
"As Minister of Energy and Resources and of Economic Development I was focused on creating opportunities for New Zealanders. Any operational decisions were made by the ministries," he said in a statement.
State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes has written to MBIE chief executive Carolyn Tremain to ask her to consider discontinuing "Operation Exploration", which was set up in 2013 after legislation was passed making it an offence to be within 500m of offshore oil and gas infrastructure.
The law was intended to stop protesters impeding the work of seismic survey ships and oil and gas recovery platforms.
In particular, Operation Exploration's adoption of the concept of monitoring "issues motivated groups" guided the design of enforcement activity "in a manner that was problematic".
Operation Exploration involved NZP&M, the New Zealand Police, TCIL and various private sector oil and gas companies involved in offshore Taranaki exploration and production.
A Minerals Exploration Joint Intelligence Group - MEJIG - was established "to consider intelligence and highlight activities that might potentially lead to interference with offshore petroleum and minerals exploration".
The MEJIG was under police leadership, but "the operating tempo of when that group met was often determined by Thompson & Clark", the investigation found.
In the course of participating in Operation Exploration, NZP&M uncritically accepted the labelling of the Green Party, represented in Parliament at the time, as what TCIL called an "issue-motivated group" for surveillance purposes, along with Greenpeace and other activist groups.
- With BusinessDesk