Smith denies bias over JPs

Nelson MP Nick Smith has rejected a claim of political bias in Justice of the Peace nominations.

Yesterday Nelson-based Labour list MP Maryan Street accused Dr Smith of bias after he turned down two people she had nominated as Justices of the Peace - Nelson Bays Primary Health chief executive Andrew Swanson-Dobbs and Service and Food Workers Union assistant national secretary Neville Donaldson.

The Nelson Tasman JPs Association advised that there were already more than enough JPs in the area where they lived but Ms Street argued that where they lived wasn't the key to their nominations, rather the range of people they came into contact with across the community through their work.

Today Dr Smith said he had endorsed recent JP nominations for people who worked in health, education, council, library and iwi services with complete integrity. These included a nomination from Labour's Te Tai Tonga MP Rino Tirikatene which he endorsed in May.

"Ms Street's cheap political point scoring is not only a slur on me but also those people who have kindly agreed to make themselves available for this important community service," Dr Smith said.

He said his office always worked in consultation with the Nelson Tasman JPs Association on JP nominations. Various factors were taken into account, including suitability to the job, whether there was a need in the area they live or work and how available they were to the public.

He said his office was advised by the association's registrar Roger Cole that Mr Swanson-Dobbs did not meet the criteria in terms of need because there were already eight JPs living within 500 metres of Mr Swanson-Dobbs' home address.

Mr Cole also re-iterated the association's preference that JPs not be in leadership roles because the demands of their job made them less available to the public. Dr Smith said he advised Mr Swanson-Dobbs of this.

"When I received Mr Donaldson's nomination from Ms Street, my office was given similar advice by Mr Cole so I declined the nomination and advised Ms Street accordingly."

Dr Smith also disputed Ms Street's claims that Nelson was under-represented with JPs, saying the phone book listed 102 in the electorate, and her assertion that list MPs should have the right to endorse JP nominations.

He said the requirement for electorate MP support on JP nominations was agreed to by all parties.

It applied in the reverse in West Coast-Tasman where Labour MP Damien O'Connor had the role over National list MP Chris Auchinvole.

"Parliament deliberately saw the role of nominating JPs was for MPs directly elected by the people and not those appointed by parties.

"I deeply regret Ms Street's decision to drag the appointment process of JPs into the political arena. JP appointments, like royal honours and judicial appointments, should be beyond this sort of ill-informed politicking.

"It undermines the politically neutral role Justices of the Peace play in our community."