Written By: - Date published: 10:43 am, May 24th, 2013 - 31 comments
Categories: ACC, accountability, auckland supercity, Conservation, greens, housing, john key, labour, Mining, same old national, slippery, sustainability - Tags: nick smith
The current MP for Nelson and government Minister of Conservation and Housing has a shameful record.
He has been a Bill English supporter amidst National Party leadership struggles, resulting in accusations of irrational, self-aggrandising behaviour when English became leader in 2003. He was found guilty of contempt of court in 2004 for breaking court confidentiality rules and pressuring a witness.
In 2010 he was involved on a defamation case. According to Michael Forbes in the Dominion Post, in June 2010, Smith used thousands of taxpayer dollars in defending himself against the accusations made by Osmose New Zealand, the local branch of a US corporate. Osmose accused Smith and Robin Wakelin, timber preservation scientist of making libelous statements in 2005, when they linked the leaky homes debacle with a product made by Osmose. This looks to be part of Smith trying to shift the ultimate blame for the shameful building of leaky homes away from the 1991 National government onto the Building and Housing Department, under Labour’s watch.
Forbes reported on the outcome of the case, in which Smith backed down and settled in return for Smith making a sizeable payment and an apology. Ultimately, in spite of the back down, Smith denied any culpability, putting it down to “politics”:
Then there was the Bronwyn Pullar, ACC case, which resulted in Smith resigning from cabinet in March 2012. A Stuff article on March 2012 by a clutch of journalists says that he admitted that he “messed up”:
His voice choking with emotion, Nick Smith resigned his Cabinet portfolios, telling Parliament he was guilty of two ”errors of judgment”.
Summonsed to Wellington for a grilling over sending a letter on ACC ministerial letterhead to help a female friend with an ACC claim, Smith spent his flight penning his resignation.
He had only hours before tried to front it out, adamant he wouldn’t resign, but eventually I guess even John Key reluctantly realised he was a liability. Smith went as far as to admit that he should have avoided the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Labour and the Greens were highly critical of Smith falling well short of Cabinet Manual standards, and asks for an inquiry. However, Key was quite relaxed about it and rejected the call for an inquiry. Green co-leader Metiria Turei was very critical when Smith was tipped to return to Cabinet earlier this year.
“I think Nick behaved unethically as a Cabinet minister. He misused his ministerial powers,” she says. “I don’t think he should be brought back at all. I’m surprised John Key is prepared to do that.”
Last week we saw that Nick Smith was involved in negotiating in bad faith with Auckland Council over its draft Auckland Unitary Plan, as outlined in my post ‘When an “accord” is not’ and micky savage’s ‘The Government’s not so good faith bargaining on affordable housing’.
Then yesterday, as I posted in ‘Cynical’, Nick Smith rushed to allow an Australian mining company to mine on conservation land. He did this the day before an amendment to the Crown Minerals Act would require public consultation on negotiations prior to giving such approvals.
On RNZ’s Checkpoint yesterday (Thursday) evening, Smith’s slippery twists and turns catch up with him, exposing his and the government’s true intent as regards mining on conservation land. First he acknowledges that the approval was given to avoid the public consultation process that becomes necessary on Friday (today). However, he justifies this by saying that the last Crown Minerals Act amendment would make it harder to protect conservation land, and would give more weight to “economic benefits”. By giving approval yesterday, Smith argues he was able to get a bigger monetary package in compensation for damage to conservation land: money that would go towards preservation of other areas.
Smith adds that anyway, people had had plenty of opportunities to have their say about the mining before it was approved. he argues that enabling more public consultation would have made not difference to the outcome.
Smith then, confusingly, repeats the “positive” outcomes for making the approval before the Crown Minerals Act amendment goes live on Friday. Wilson sense a contradiction:
Wilson: So in fact the changes under the Crown Minerals Act are worse for conservation?
Smith: Oh indeed. The government has made quite plain that those changes for the conservation act is to get a more balanced decision making process, where economic benefits and conservation are aligned together. A future decision would not be a decision by me as Minister of Conservation, but a joint decision with the Minister of Energy and Resources.
Wilson: And so we can expect more conservation land to be mined. We can expect more conservation land to be mined
Smith: Well indeed, it has been the very up front view of the government in 2 election campaigns is that the government takes a view that there is more economic opportunity for New Zealand from [using?] its resources. I as a Minister of Conservation tend to take a firm view that there are some very special areas that we should not mine. This is not one of those. There are areas of the Denniston Plateau that I do not want to see mined. I’ve made that plain in my announcements today. It is a very constructive process going on ….
Wilson lets him continue with his PR speak about his “practical” decisions. She then asks about Bathurst stating earlier in the week that it is laying off staff and withdrawing two of it’s drilling rigs from the Denniston Plateau. She asks if this has put pressure on Smith’s decision Smith replies that he had not been under aware of such announcements from Bathurst being made this week.
Nick Smith, slippery is, as slippery does: and with no sense of shame at his own dodgy dealings. However, in doing this, he’s not as skillful as his PM.