Southern councils have reached across the political
divide by recruiting former Dunedin MPs Pete Hodgson and
Katherine Rich to the fight to save 85 jobs at Invermay.
Mr Hodgson, speaking to the Otago Daily Times
yesterday, warned the lessons of history showed AgResearch's
planned job cuts at Invermay were ''a grave strategic
Mr Hodgson, the former Dunedin North Labour MP, was the
minister responsible for CRIs, including AgResearch, under
former prime minister Helen Clark.
Former Dunedin-based National list MP Katherine Rich's
father, Dr Jock Allison, is a former director of Invermay.
Both former MPs were yesterday named as members of the
working party finalising a counterproposal for Invermay, to
be presented to the AgResearch board and Economic Development
Minister Steven Joyce.
Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull yesterday said initial talks had been
held with AgResearch representatives, and a four-strong
delegation of southern councils would meet Clutha-Southland
MP Bill English in Balclutha on Friday.
That delegation would feature Mr Cull, Otago Regional Council
chairman Stephen Woodhead, Environment Southland chief
executive Rob Phillips and Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan.
However, the working party's final proposal would not be
presented to the AgResearch board until late next month, and
to Mr Joyce some time after that, Mr Cull said.
The counterproposal would be based on input from more than 50
delegates from organisations across the lower South Island,
gathered at a summit held in Dunedin earlier this month.
The meeting was called after AgResearch unveiled a
proposal to shift 85 jobs from the Invermay agricultural
research centre to either Lincoln or Palmerston North by 2016.
Mr Cull said the counterproposal being prepared would show
AgResearch's plan was ''strategically damaging both to the
region and the national economy''.
''Many see Invermay as integral to Dunedin's economic
development strategy, and its loss would have a major impact
on the wider regional economy.
''If they take away the sort of infrastructure and services
offered by Invermay, they erode our research and economic
base and we have nothing to build on.''
The recruitment of Mr Hodgson and Mrs Rich brought ''valuable
experience'' to the working party, Mr Cull said.
That included a six-year stint by Mr Hodgson as CRI minister,
during which AgResearch closed its Wallaceville research
centre in Upper Hutt in 2004.
Dunedin was supposed to benefit from that restructuring, with
up to 26 jobs coming south, but Mr Hodgson said yesterday the
move had proven to be ''substantially unsuccessful''.
That was because many of the scientists did not want to
relocate and instead opted for other roles.
That was a concern raised again with AgResearch's latest
plans for Invermay.
''The expectation that people would shift [from Wallaceville]
was not met, and, frankly, there are some lessons to be
learnt from that event.
''It was way short of a success and lessons ought to be
learnt from that,'' he said.
Mr Hodgson said he was initially ''simply bemused'' by the
latest restructuring proposal, but his stance had shifted to
''strong opposition'' while researching the counter-proposal
for the working party.
He was reluctant to detail his advice to the working party,
but insisted the restructuring would be a ''grave strategic
error'' with implications for the region's primary production
and scientific research sectors.
Mr Cull said the counter-proposal would outline opportunities
to enhance Invermay, rather than downsize it.
Mr Woodhead said the meeting with Mr English on Friday would
be a ''general discussion'' about southern concerns while the
minister was on a visit to his Clutha-Southland constituency.
''It will be the first opportunity we've had to have a
face-to-face discussion with Bill [English] over this issue.
''We're just taking that opportunity.''