Stinking up the joint over Ruataniwha

Andrea Vance writes about the dodgy behaviour of Nick Smith over the Ruataniwha dam.

You could get tied in knots trying to explain the Ruataniwha Dam mini-scandal enveloping Conservation Minister Nick Smith.

Smith certainly has, and it has left a pong as pungent as a river polluted with cow excrement.

What it boils down to is the perception of political influence. The Department of Conservation prepared a submission to an Environmental Protection Agency Board of Inquiry examining the proposed irrigation dam. They concluded it was “risky”, “untested” “inappropriate” and could pollute the Tukituki and Waipawa Rivers.

Two days after Smith was told about the proposal it was withdrawn and replaced with a diluted, two-paragraph submission. Smith has repeatedly insisted he learned about the existence of the report only last week, from a radio bulletin.

Documents later surfaced to show he had been briefed and had expressed concerns. Smith’s explanation for this inconsistency is that he saw only the final copy, not the original 32-page draft. He was, to use his own words, dancing on the head of a pin.

The problem with his account is that it is evident he was told enough about the tenor of the report to express concerns and ask to see it. 

This issue will eventually finish Nick Smith’s political career. Though he is fighting a rear guard action tooth and nail.

Smith has strenuously denied he leaned on DOC. However, the perception that is left is that his officials were so worried about his reaction, that they scrapped the whole thing and went with a safer option. It speaks to an apparent trend of ministers taking care not to record anything but verbally putting pressure on their departments or ministries.

Smith has also made some interesting comments about what he believes DOC’s role is. He revealed in Parliament he had a conversation with the department’s director- general when he first took up the portfolio this year and indicated it should exercise caution when making submissions to boards of inquiry. He also made it clear that he believes water quality is not within DOC’s scope, which should be the protection of species. If they could, I’m sure the fish of the Tukituki would disagree.

Nick smith just can’t help himself. He is a meddler…always was and always will be.

The Sunday Star-Times also revealed last year that Smith overrode the advice of environment ministry officials and awarded a $185,000 grant to a project, $87,000 of which was swallowed up in consultancy fees for a company run by his friend. Three years ago he fired a board of elected councillors at Environment Canterbury, over water- management issues.

It all points to a disturbing track record of Smith overstepping the boundaries of public service neutrality. However, unlike the ACC conflict of interest, this episode is unlikely to spell the end of Smith’s ministerial career. The matter is too complicated and bureaucratic to have much resonance outside of the public service. Letting him go would be an admission Prime Minister John Key made a mistake in restoring him to Cabinet, so his position would need to be untenable.

Andrea Vance is dead right there, though Smith should be sacked. The only reason he survives is because of Bill English. John Key made an error in re-instating him, it may will be the error that also costs him his job if he sticks by Nick Smith. The problem with hugging corpses is eventually you end up smelling like them.


THANK YOU for being a subscriber. Because of you Whaleoil is going from strength to strength. It is a little known fact that Whaleoil subscribers are better in bed, good looking and highly intelligent. Sometimes all at once! Please Click Here Now to subscribe to an ad-free Whaleoil.

  • BAM

    Nick Smith is fucking useless.
    It’s fuckwits like him that will lose National the next election.

    • richard.b

      He could run for Auckland mayor…….

    • IWantToBeLikeMallardOneDay

      National’s Mallard.

  • rusty

    Gee I’m not sure about this. Nick Smith seems to me to be a pretty good minister of conservation/environment. He finds a good balance between greeny stuff and business. He won’t let business do something dumb to our conservation estate but he will allow business to use conservation land when its pragmatic and sensible. We often complain about politicians sitting back and letting the bureaucrats make the decisions. Nick Smith doesn’t do this. We can call it meddling but one mans meddling is another mans taking responsibility. At the end of the day we elect these guys to run the country and sometimes that surely means reeling in a government department whose views may not reflect the views of the government.

    I don’t really know the ins and outs of this one and if he has made calls that compromise safety or financial aspects then ok he is fair game. But I deal with various ecological and scientific reports and boy a lot of them are heavily slanted on the anti-development side and some of these guys make Minto look like a pussycat. DOC are notorious for it too.

    • Well argued. And I agree with you. I actually believe he shows considerable competence in this portfolio. Can you image how issues like these would play out if the Labia-Gweens were in power? God help us all!

      • Whafe

        Don’t agree with everything Nick Smith says, but hang, it is one of the hardest portfolio’s in my opinion, because as we know Labia-Gweens would quash any forward movement in anything relating to the environment, Nick Smith needs to run along a very fine edged sword…
        We need responsible mining and water harvesting projects like this… Don’t be forgetting that primary production is the back bone of New Zealand…

  • Whafe

    If in fact there is some stinking rot in regards to this project. I don’t think it should at all mean that the financial benefits etc etc should be side stepped, this project needs to go through the correct channels, but it will be a jewel in the crown to enable precious water to be harvested and used in one of the most productive growing areas in New Zealand…
    Don’t dismiss the fact we need to have the ability to produce more on the same amount of land, this is vital…
    Am not so stupid to believe that there will not be some challenges in regards to the environment, but the project needs to be looked at in detail….

  • Peej

    I am reminded of the very long ago Mad magazine. On the back cover in colour the politician standing there à la George Washington. Trying to hide it behind his back but it’s sticking out, a big axe. On the ground a tree, chopped down. Instead of Washington it’s Nixon. He’s saying, “I cannot tell a lie, I didn’t do it.”

  • David Broome

    Funny thing every time there is a ‘Ruataniwha moment’ by WO, there are more sensible comments favouring the dam and a lot more ups too!

    • And people say this blog is a circle jerk.

    • TreeCrusher

      Someone close to the WO action probably adversely affected somehow by the dam.

      I do find it odd the side of this argument the WO guys take on this one. Maybe they be trolling to get some debate going. Either way I say get as many of these projects off the ground while we can.

      I have also been involved in the RMA process and have been dismayed by the anti development submissions put in by DOC, fish & game et all. They are clearly written by left of centre ideologies, cherry picking the science that suits their agenda. Some say the minister should stay out of it and allow these departments to be “politically neutral”, I say you have got to be kidding. These departments are full of ideologies that should be brought into line with a good swift dose of “this is your scope, don’t go outside it, if you do you’re fired”.

  • cows4me

    Surely Mr Smith is conflicted, how will the development of thousands of hectares of irrigated land to be primarily used for dairy support his stand on climate change? Has not New Zealand been the only idiot country that declared that animal emissions result in AGW gasses. Smith and his National, bullshitting, thieving mates are so full of it, they have no creditability.

    • IWantToBeLikeMallardOneDay

      Hear hear! Why does this happen under National!?

  • The other Neil

    He is a dick. I have appeared in select committee and been harassed by him as he pursued a green Taliban agenda, protecting Greenpeace. He is in the wrong party.

  • Patrick

    Nick Smith, political liability & with his AGW beliefs a economic liability as well. Ditch the prick and do it now.

  • disqus_Aa7kWsb7Fp

    Well Cunliffe couldn’t get onto the property with his media mob :)
    Seems they’re still calving and silent T might have been mistaken for a cow