Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor has unveiled big changes to New Zealand’s biosecurity system, including new law changes to strengthen animal tracing and details of a Biosecurity Act overhaul.
Responding to a Rural News Official Information Act request – put to O’Connor – about the costs and workings of the Primary Sector Council, the minister’s office says it is unable provide any answers as it is “an operational matter”.
“This information is not held by the Office of the Minister of Agriculture, Minister for Biosecurity Food Safety and Rural Communities, and Minister for Trade and Export Growth; it is better responded to directly by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI),” was O’Connor office’s reply. “I am therefore transferring your request to MPI for response.”
O’Connor’s office has now passed on Rural News’ OIA request to MPI to answer; so far it has made no response.
Ironically, when O’Connor announced on April 26 who would sit on the Primary Sector Council, he admitted he “did not have all the answers”. However, this was in relation to issues confronting the primary industry sector and not the actual workings and costings of the council itself.
However, it appears that O’Connor’s lack of knowledge turns out to be the case regarding his understanding of the Primary Sector Council’s annual cost to taxpayers, how much its chair and members are being paid, or even how often it will meet.
The 15-member council is chaired by former Zespri chief executive Lain Jager and it has been criticised for having a lack of real farmer membership. It also drew concern from the scientific community, with Jill Stanley, the president of NZ Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Science, calling the lack of scientists on the council “surprising and disappointing”.
O’Connor’s and his office’s obfuscation and lack of transparency over legitimate questions about the Primary Sector Council will not gain it the respect and buy-in of the primary sector it is supposed to represent.
The lack of answers about the Primary Sector Council are even more surprising considering O’Connor had flagged its formation in Labour’s election manifesto back in July 2017. The manifesto said a Labour government would, “appoint a primary industry council and a chief agricultural adviser to provide a unified industry voice to government and the wider population and advise ministers and government on all areas of primary production”.
However, it now appears that the policy was never properly costed and has been hurriedly put together. Rural News will publish the responses to the questions it has posed about the Primary Sector Council when – and if – MPI responds to its OIA.
* MPI has now responded to Rural News' OIA request- but this was received after the July 3 issue was printed. Rural News will publish MPI's responses to the questions it has posed about the Primary Sector Council in our July 17 issue.