Nick Smith won't pursue defamation action

STACEY KIRK
Last updated 11:22 29/07/2014

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Conservation Minister Nick Smith has decided against taking defamation action after allegations of political interference at Fish & Game council meeting. 

Instead, he will write a "strongly worded" legal letter to Association of Freshwater Anglers president David Haynes.

Smith yesterday threatened legal action against Haynes after Haynes accused Smith of political interference.

Smith said Haynes' comments were "unfair and untrue".

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 said.
"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."

Haynes refused to resile from yesterday's comments. Smith said they "completely contradicted" comments made by Haynes immediately after the meeting.

Haynes write a blog post the day after the meeting, saying Cmith had "chided" Fish and Game. 

"There were two notable speakers on the day that I attended: Graeme Colman from Horizons Research who presented the Fish & Game-funded research that confirmed the public perceptions of how intensive agriculture has an adverse environmental impact, as well as data indicating 60 per cent of the public want clean and swimmable rivers.

"This was in sharp contrast to the views of the second speaker, the Hon Nick Smith, Minister for Housing and Conservation. Smith delivered his opinions and thoughts as professionally as ever, albeit the medium outshone the message on several occasions."

Smith said he had spoken with his lawyer, and heeded the advice of Prime Minister John Key.

"I'm going to send Mr Haynes a letter, just simply saying that his comments were defamatory, that they contradict his statement immediately after the meeting ... that they weren't correct, but there'll be no further action."

Key said yesterday a defamation suit would be "a step too far and a bit silly".

He would be having a "regular catch-up" today with environmental groups, which included Fish & Game's chief executive, Bryce Johnson.

"Every, I think it is couple of months, I have an annual catch-up with the environmental NGOs," Key said.

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"They run through their issues of concern."

He said Smith had been clear that any changes that were made to Fish & Game legislation "would be changes at the request of Fish & Game that is in the area of licensing".

Smith confirmed there would be no change to the mandate of Fish & Game, though he would like to introduce a law change to allow them more flexibility to sell game and fishing licences.

- Stuff

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