Nick Smith denies bullying Fish and Game

STACEY KIRK
Last updated 12:35 28/07/2014
Nick Smith
DEAN KOZANIC/Fairfax NZ
Conservation Minister Nick Smith

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Conservation Minister Nick Smith has rejected allegations of political interference, but may "tweak" the legislation which governs Fish and Game if he stays on as minister after the coming election.

Smith said he was considering legal action against Association of Freshwater Anglers president David Haynes, who made the allegations.

Haynes said Smith had been highly critical of Fish & Game at a Fish & Game Council meeting in Wellington this month.

"Nick Smith is very good at talking at and over people," Haynes told Morning Report.

"He was wading into them and they sat very quietly and listened to what he was saying.

"From my perspective they [Fish & Game] were very clearly being castigated, it could be construed as political interference - this was about telling Fish & Game to wind their neck in." 

The allegations were centred on a series of billboards that called for greater protections to keep rivers and lakes clean.

Smith today released a page of handwritten notes taken throughout the meeting by the official from the Department of Conservation's head office responsible for Fish & Game.

The document painted a "very different" account to Haynes' version, and came from an impartial observer, Smith said.

Fish & Game is an independent organisation. It collects its funding through fees for fishing and hunting licences.

It has statutory obligations to oversee fish and game management and ensure effective management of the country's sports fish and game resources.

Smith vehemently denied any political interference.

Reports that he told Fish & Game it was "standing in the way of the Government's economic agenda" were untrue, Smith said.

"Mr Haynes is a longtime critic of me as conservation minister, most recently over 1080. He is not neutral and his deliberate misrepresentation of the meeting is driven by politics and the election season.

"I am taking legal advice over his statements. I have been a long-term advocate for improving New Zealand's water quality, including putting in place New Zealand's first National Policy Statement on Freshwater, and I find his statements offensive and defamatory."

Smith said he had said that "Fish & Game does need to engage with industries like agriculture and irrigation through the collaborative process to get the best outcomes for freshwater quality".

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"While it was absolutely right for them to advocate for freshwater, I do think they got into the space sometimes of being anti-New Zealand's most important industry, that being the dairy industry."

Some people in the group had an agenda to misrepresent the Government's agenda, Smith said.

Labour's conservation spokeswoman Ruth Dyson said Smith had "overstepped the mark" as minister.

"You would have thought he would have learned from the Bronwyn Pullar ACC debacle where he intervened in his own department to lobby for a friend," Dyson said.

"Instead, as soon as he returned as a minister he was gagging his Conservation Department's concerns over the Ruataniwha Dam," she said.

"He has now threatened to change the mandate of Fish & Game because of its advocacy for clean rivers."

It was "straight-out intimidation", Dyson said. 

- Stuff

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