"... you cannot make something true by repeating a
falsehood many times" - Pete Hodgson
A government ministry has been accused of giving
one-sided advice in favour of slashing jobs at AgResearch's
And documents obtained by the Otago Daily Times have
shed more light on concerns AgResearch restructuring will
cause key staff to leave, and revealed details about an
''investment decision'' that could result in changes to its
Former Dunedin North MP and former minister responsible for
AgResearch, Pete Hodgson, said Ministry of Business,
Innovation and Employment (MBIE) advice, obtained by the
ODT under the Official Information Act, showed it had
a ''blinkered view'' in favour of restructuring.
''I think MBIE has had a great deal of interaction with
AgResearch over several years and rather little interaction
with people, such as the Save Invermay group or the farmers
of New Zealand. As a result, they have a blinkered view.''
He took particular issue with MBIE telling Science and
Innovation Minister Steven Joyce potential staff losses at
Invermay would ''only'' have a short-term effect ''as several
key staff are either at, or approaching retirement age''.
''That is provably wrong and you cannot make something true
by repeating a falsehood many times,'' Mr Hodgson said.
MBIE was concerned over AgResearch's explanations regarding
staff risk, but did not appreciate the magnitude of the
problem and that previous restructuring at its Wallaceville
campus was ''near enough a complete failure'', he said.
''Nobody is learning from history here.''
Dunedin-based consultancy company AbacusBio managing director
Neville Jopson and Genetics Otago director Associate Prof
Peter Dearden took issue with comments in a report MBIE
provided to the Minister last October.
In it, MBIE said Invermay's ''collaborations with other
research providers like Otago University and AbacusBio'' were
at a ''low'' base.
MBIE also said collaboration at Lincoln was ''more likely to
create impacts to the agricultural sector'' than
collaboration with the ''human genetics work based at the
University of Otago''.
Prof Dearden said describing collaboration being at a ''low''
base was not a fair representation.
While there were ''few joint grants'' between Otago
University and AgResearch, that was just the ''tip of the
iceberg'' when it came to collaboration between the two
institutions, he said.
''The real thing is the talking, the joint ideas and
cross-collaboration of fields.''
It was ''definitely a misrepresentation'' to describe
genetics work at Otago as being all ''human''.
''We have over 200 people who call themselves geneticists.
Some of them are microbial geneticists, so they work on
bacteria and viruses; we have people who work in plants and
Mr Jopson also disputed the MBIE advice.
''There is always scope to grow, but I wouldn't have said the
level of collaboration for us is at a low point.''
An MBIE spokeswoman said it was ''satisfied with the quality
of the advice it has given to ministers on AgResearch's
Future Footprint plans''.
''This advice has considered the impacts of the Future
Footprint plan on AgResearch's national capability, the
industries that AgResearch serves and the broader science and
innovation system,'' she said.
Mr Joyce responded by saying Mr Hodgson was ''entitled to his
''I would encourage him and other stakeholders to continue to
constructively engage with AgResearch on its Future Footprint
Meanwhile, new MBIE documents obtained by the Otago Daily
Times from the Dunedin City Council have shed more light
on concerns about staff losses.
In a document from November last year, MBIE explains why it
is concerned with an AgResearch update on the risks of staff
losses - which was redacted in the copy the ministry provided
to the ODT.
''We remain unable to answer our key questions: Among the
population of key affected scientists, are there any
concentrations that will make the potential loss more
damaging to national capability? How many of these key
scientists were approaching retirement?''
AgResearch also confirmed January's announcement of $8.8
million a year funding for a sheep and beef genetics
collaboration, involving AbacusBio and Otago University, was
the ''upcoming'' investment referred to in an internal email.
In the internal email from last December, AgResearch chief
executive Dr Tom Richardson said the investment could
''affect our sheep and beef genetics activities, which could
flow through to Future Footprint requirements''.