Friday, August 31, 2018

Mushrooming the Minister

Ministers are supposed to be able to rely on public servants to give advice on the areas they request so they can make good decisions. Normally here the concern is public servants being too timid about telling Ministers things they don't want to hear. But Newsroom reports a case of the opposite in DoC: a department censoring information the Minister had specifically asked for, in an apparent attempt to mushroom them:

In January, Eugenie Sage asked for a Department of Conservation (DOC) briefing on biodiversity values in the Mackenzie. She specifically wanted it to come from Christchurch ecologist Nick Head, one of the country’s foremost experts on the Mackenzie.

Head, who left the department in June and is pursuing a personal grievance claim, provided the two-page briefing to his bosses on January 24. But emails released to Newsroom under the Official Information Act show that DOC’s principal Mackenzie adviser, Jeremy Severinsen, deleted several key passages before it was sent to the Minister’s office.

It’s clear from the DOC emails that those passages related to Crown lease properties in the Mackenzie going through tenure review, their ecological values, and how they might help form a drylands park.

According to Forest & Bird, the censored advice showed that past tenure review decisions had undermined the environment and compromised the possibility of a drylands park. It is unclear if Severinsen was involved in those decisions, or simply covering up for people who were, but either way, it doesn't look good. While there's obviously a process of curation and quality control over anything that goes before a Minister, this seems to go a bit beyond that. And in the context of DoC's internal culture war, it looks decidedly dubious.

I can't imagine Sage, or any other Minister, putting up with this sort of behaviour, and i expect there'll be some pointed words directed at DoC's Chief Executive to ensure it does not happen again.