Conservation Minister Nick Smith has backed down on a
legal threat against an environmental advocate who accused him
of political interference.
Dr Smith's alleged bullying of independent organisation Fish
and Game prompted Labour leader David Cunliffe to call for
his resignation this morning, saying it was his "third
The Conservation Minister told reporters he had "heeded the
Prime Minister's advice" and decided not to proceed with
defamation action against one of the people who accused him
of political interference, Association of Freshwater Anglers
president David Haynes.
After speaking to his lawyer, Dr Smith decided that he would
instead send a letter to Mr Haynes to tell him that his
statements were defamatory and offensive.
The legal threat came after Mr Haynes said Dr Smith had
behaved like a bully at a Fish and Game Council meeting on
He said the minister described the council as a "rabid NGO
[non-governmental organisation]" and threatened to limit its
role if it did not "tone down" its criticism of irrigation
and agriculture -- a key part of National's economic agenda.
His description of Dr Smith's behaviour was backed by several
The minister's criticism stemmed from a series of Fish and
Game billboards which showed pictures of dead fish and dirty
rivers and said: "Irrigation: How much … is too much?" Prime
Minister John Key said yesterday that Dr Smith would be
"silly" to take legal action.
Labour leader David Cunliffe compared the minister's alleged
threats towards Fish and Game to Government's decision to cut
funding to the Problem Gambling Foundation after it had
openly criticised National's policies.
Mr Cunliffe said this morning: "To even suggest to a
statutory body that following their statutory mandate would
run into conflict with the government and it could result in
funding change -- I think that is abhorrent." He said Dr
Smith's behaviour reflected an increasingly arrogant
"This week we have seen that culture of creeping arrogance
get worse. We have four MPs in trouble.
"Minister Smith with his attempt to muzzle an agency for
doing its statutory function. I think it's the third strike
and he should be out.
"I'm calling on the Prime Minister to let that minister go
from his portfolio as Conservation Minister. After Pullar and
Ruataniwha this is one strike too many.
"We've seen Gerry Brownlee with his airport problems, we've
seen Ms [Claudette] Hauiti with her put-it-on-the-plastic,
and we've seen Jonathan Coleman apparently being untruthful
about when he was briefed on the FBI."
Dr Smith resigned as ACC Minister in 2012 after helping his
friend Bronwyn Pullar with an ACC claim. He was also accused
of gagging his conservation department last year over its
concerns about the proposed Ruataniwha dam in the Hawkes Bay.
Mr Key planned to meet Fish and Game this afternoon and
reaffirmed that there were no plans to limit the council's
He stood by his minister, saying official notes from the
meeting showed he did not threaten to change the
organisation's statutory role.
The notes were released by Dr Smith's office yesterday and
appeared to show that Dr Smith had questioned Fish and Game's
The notes said: "Big issue -- F&G need to work out what
they want to be: a statutory body -- legislation and a
relationship with Government or an NGO?? Statutory
monopoly!!" Dr Smith said Mr Haynes' public comments
contradicted a blog he wrote three days after the meeting.
In the blog on Fish and Game's website, Mr Haynes said Dr
Smith had "delivered his opinions and thoughts as
professionally as ever" at the meeting.
Mr Haynes also said in the blog that the minister had
"chided" Fish and Game for challenging dairy's polluting of
lakes and rivers and described environmental NGOs as "rabid".
- Isaac Davison of the New Zealand Herald