Jim Salinger: from praise to packing his bags

03:44, Apr 29 2009
JIM SALINGER: 'Maybe I did breach their policy over Radio New Zealand, but heavens, that's not going to destroy Niwa.'

Sacked climate scientist Jim Salinger's employers praised him for being the public "face of Niwa" only 18 months ago.

However, last week, Salinger was told by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) to pack his bags, apparently for doing what he was congratulated for - talking to the media.

Documents seen by The Press yesterday show the Crown research institute principal scientist was highly regarded by his employers as late as last year.

The Auckland climatologist, whose involvement with international climate-change research contributed to a Nobel prize and who is president of the World Meteorological Organisation's commission for agricultural meteorology, is now considering legal action against what he considers to be unjustified dismissal. Salinger's employment review for the year ended June 30, 2007 performed by climate and energy application group manager Darren King and Auckland regional manager Ken Becker outlines his performance. Salinger is congratulated for his expertise, teamwork and communication abilities.

"Well-known by public as an expert on climate matters, has a very responsible and accountable attitude to his work," one comment says.

He also "has a high public profile as a climate expert and [is] the face of Niwa to the media".

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In a mid-year review in January last year a handwritten note acknowledges Salinger as the Niwa employee responsible for having "rebuilt relationship with TVNZ".

Salinger's lawyer, Alex Hope, confirmed a personal grievance case was under way. A decision whether to broaden that case to include a claim of unjustified dismissal would be made in the next couple of days.

Niwa spokeswoman Michele Hollis reiterated the institute's stand that it would not comment on an "employment matter".

Salinger said the atmosphere at Niwa had changed in the past six months or so, when he was told to "knuckle under, I'm the tall poppy, stand back from media stuff".

He had since talked to television about an annual alpine snowline survey, to Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint about Auckland's hottest day in more than 130 years, and called TVNZ weatherman Jim Hickey two weeks ago from the West Coast to say the rivers were in flood.

"Maybe I did breach their policy over Radio New Zealand, but heavens, that's not going to destroy Niwa.

"Everyone else was away; I knew I had breached it, but it was too important a day. Sure, they wanted me to step back and let others have an opportunity, but they weren't there that day."

Fellow scientists are stunned by Salinger's sacking.

MetService spokesman Bob McDavitt said he was "shocked", before adding: "I have been asked to say `no comment'."

Wanaka glaciologist Trevor Chinn said he was "astonished".

"It seems to me to be completely lacking in any foundation. You have to ask yourself, `what's the problem here'."

Victoria University of Wellington earth scientist Jim McGregor said Salinger was "a guy who, long before climate change became fashionable, has been commenting on the issues".

- By PAUL GORMAN, The Press