Columnist stands by Amy Adams claims

SUSAN STRONGMAN
Last updated 05:00 18/03/2014

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Controversial columnist Rachel Stewart has ruffled parliamentary feathers, with claims Environment Minister Amy Adams has abused her power for potential personal gain.

Adams' press secretary, Nathan Beaumont, responded to Stewart's column in yesterday's Taranaki Daily News, which was headlined Adams well linked to land of milk and money, saying the claims were malicious, factually wrong and defamatory.

"The whole tone of Ms Stewart's article implies that Minister Adams is using her role as minister to personally benefit her farming interests through the Central Plains Water scheme," he said.

"For the record, I completely reject this accusation."

In the column, Stewart claimed Adams' ownership of shares in Central Plains Water Limited, as well as dairy farms in the area, were a conflict of interest.

But Beaumont rejected Stewart's claim that Adams owned a dairy farm, saying she and her husband were "sheep and crop farmers". A parliamentary register of pecuniary interests from 2013 lists three farms in trust under Adams' name - two in Darfield and Kirwee, Canterbury areas that are part of the Central Plains Water scheme, and a third in the Waikato town of Te Kauwhata.

Stewart yesterday refused to back down on her comments, saying she thought Adams' press secretary was playing with semantics.

"I stand by everything I said."

Even if the Canterbury farms Adams owned were not dairy farms, they still stood to gain from the irrigation scheme, she said.

Beaumont also contradicted Stewart's claims that Adams had been involved in the removal of a water conservation order that has been put on the Rakaia River, so that water could be accessed for the scheme.

"This is so wrong, I don't know where to start," he said, adding that Adams had passed responsibilities relating to the scheme to Gerry Brownlee to avoid any actual or perceived conflicts of interest.

"This was done after she became Environment Minister in April 2012. Therefore she has never removed the Water Conservation Order that covers Rakaia River. Minister Brownlee made the decision."

He said Stewart's entire column was based on an incorrect claim.

"The minister has been completely upfront and declared her interest in the Central Plains Water scheme. The minister has not abused her role; in fact she has ensured that she does not have any role in decisions relating to CPW."

Adams and her husband Robert are owners of Amdon Farms Ltd, which owns shares in Central Plains Water Ltd.

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CLARIFICATION

In Monday's Taranaki Daily News columnist Rachel Stewart raised questions about the links between Environment Minister Amy Adams and the Central Plains Water irrigation scheme in Canterbury.

The column suggested the minister had the power to dismantle a Water Conservation Order so that the Rakaia River could feed that irrigation scheme, and this decision would benefit farm holdings she owned.

The Taranaki Daily News acknowledges the minister had no such power.

Rachel Stewart wrote the Minister had done things "by the book" but also suggested that to say the Minister had not abused her role would be "a big stretch".

The Taranaki Daily News acknowledges that Minister Adams declared a pecuniary interest in the Central Plains Water scheme and transferred her responsibilities as Environment Minister to Minister Gerry Brownlee in April 2012.

We also acknowledge there has only been one Cabinet decision made regarding the Central Plains Water Scheme and on that occasion, Mr Brownlee took the paper to the relevant Cabinet committee. Ms Adams, who does not own a dairy farm in Canterbury, excused herself from the Cabinet committee where it was discussed, and took no part in the discussions.

- Taranaki Daily News

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