Editorial: Councillor's personal hit is below the belt

Last updated 05:00 09/05/2012

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OPINION: In Taranaki, with its population of not much more than 100,000, there only so many people to go around. It is not unusual to find people who have had key roles in more than one organisation, sometimes at the same time.

With that as background it is disappointing that those who have more than one association find their integrity questioned as a consequence.

A frequent target in the last year has been the Taranaki Regional Council director of resource management, Fred McLay. And one who levelled accusations this week, South Taranaki District councillor Michael Self, was himself criticised by Mr McLay's boss, TRC chief executive Basil Chamberlain at a public meeting on Monday.

Manaia's Mr Self believes oil and gas exploration is contributing to health problems in the province. He has linked the exploration work with water contamination, cancer and birth defects and questions the level of monitoring carried out by the regional council.

He is flying the flag for a group which shares similar concerns, is vehemently opposed to fracking, and believes he would not be doing his job if he remained quiet.

But more than that, he suggests reports from the council are tainted. In claiming the council has a conflict of interest he also emphasises the fact that Mr McLay's work history included two years at Shell Todd Oil Services. Mr Self crossed the line which divides attacking the information and attacking individuals, and copped a serve from Mr Chamberlain as a result.

Mr McLay was the council's consents manager before accepting a job with Shell Todd Oil Services as its head of external affairs. He worked there from 2001 to 2003 before returning to the council, where he is now director of resource management.

He now finds his own integrity under fire because reports on aspects of oil and gas exploration such as fracking are not to the liking of opponents.

Reasonable logic would say Mr McLay holds his current role because he is an expert in his field, and that he has garnered that expertise because his work history has involved more than just working for local government.

But he does appear to have become a victim of conspiracy theorists.

Mr Self is best known in South Taranaki as a councillor, but is also the face of a popular television advert for Lotto. However, it does not follow that he has an interest in promoting gambling.

The allegations over Mr McLay's integrity also reflect on the regional councillors and their honesty. As TRC councillor Neil Walker said this week, "just because somebody has once worked for someone else, does not make them a dishonest person".

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Lobby groups have every right to question the safety of mining operations. They have succeeded in raising awareness of the issue and, in doing so, ensured a great deal of information about it has been put into the public domain.

But opponents of fracking can't have it both ways by demanding reviews and expert opinion on issues, then condemning the outcome on the basis that those experts are in the pocket of the industry.

- Taranaki Daily News

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