Thursday, 03 December 2020 08:55

MFE moves to mitigate conflicts of interest

Written by  David Anderson
Jane Smith said she was "appalled" by Taylor's potential conflict of interest. Jane Smith said she was "appalled" by Taylor's potential conflict of interest.

Concerns raised about the serious conflict of interest of a key Ministry for the Environment (MfE) staffer involved in the controversial freshwater reforms has led the ministry to implement a new system to mitigate future issues.

This follows a Rural News Official Information Act (OIA) request asking about the mitigation measures it had in place around animal rights activist and vegan Rowan Taylor – a MfE senior policy analyst – who is leading the ministry’s submissions to influence plan changes at regional level.

Taylor’s potential conflict of interest was first revealed in Rural News, in early October, by North Otago farmer Jane Smith after she had carried out her own OIA request about MfE’s handling of the freshwater reforms.

“I am appalled that an animal liberation, vegan who is publicly opposed to livestock farming, is essentially being paid by the taxpayer to be an internal activist,” Smith said at the time.

Taylor has been in his role as a senior policy analyst at MfE since April 2014. In February 2019, as guest speaker for the Christchurch Vegan Society dinner he spoke on the topic: ‘Beyond Animal Farming – How NZ Can Lead the World’. Taylor was described in the society’s publicity for the event as an: “environmental analyst and vegan…looking at the prospects for shifting to an animal-free economy. How could we do it? How fast could we do it? How far could we take it?” 

In its response to the OIA, the ministry’s director of people and experience Nick Hurley claimed that Taylor has “never hidden” his vegan and animal liberation beliefs from the ministry.

Hurley conceded that while all candidates are asked to declare conflicts of interest during interviews for roles at MfE, Taylor “did not submit a formal declaration before starting work at the ministry”.

Hurley also tried to downplay Taylor’s influence in the controversial new regulations, claiming that while he is currently working on the freshwater reforms… “he joined the project later and was not involved in the initial policy work on this”.

“Policies are reviewed and approved by a number of ministry staff and managers before they are approved,” he claimed. “This ensures policies are free of any potential personal biases that may be held by any employed involved in the development of a particular policy.”

However, Hurley says the ministry has now implemented a new employee conflict of interest declaration and guidance process to mitigate future issues.

“The ministry has recently updated its process to more comprehensively define conflicts of interest and set clearer standards for when employees should declare non-work activities.”

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