Agriculture Minister David Carter has been exposed abusing his ministerial powers to protect the trade interests of his private investments. Earlier this year, Carter banned Jewish religious slaughtering practices because of perceived risks to the meat trade with Muslim nations after being briefed by companies he owns that take part in the trade.
The issue was this: both Jewish and Muslim religious practice requires animals that are about to be slaughtered for food to be prayed over and have their necks slit. In an exemption from normal practice, New Zealand has dispensation from some Muslim clerics to stun the animals before halal slaughter. No such exemption exists for animals killed under shechita, the Jewish rules (nothing in this post should be taken as defending shechita or halal, it’s about rule of law).
As I understand it, most of the meat produced in New Zealand is slaughtered according to halal because its easier that way for the meat producers sending meat to the large Muslim markets. In contrast, just 2,000 chickens and 300 sheep a year are slaughtered for the small observant Jewish population.
The right of the Jewish community to continue its practice had been affirmed numerous times in the past decade on human rights grounds.
Meat exporters feared that if Muslim importers became aware that Jews were being allowed to slaughter animals without stunning them while Muslims were being required to make an exemption to their rules and allow stunning, they would perceive it as special treatment for Jews over Muslims and refuse to buy New Zealand meat. This had not happened in all the time the meat exporters had been raising their concerns but still they were worried.
Then along came the new minister, David Carter, who just so happens to own shares in Silver Fern Farms and Alliance Group, both of which export halal meat to the Muslim market and “a 1200ha cattle breeding property in Teddington, a fattening unit at Southbridge and shares in a property in Waiau.” The meat exporters, including ones he part owns, lobbied him on the issue of banning schechita to protect the halal trade.
What Carter should have done when considering the issue of shechita slaughter is say ‘well, I’ve got major financial interests in one of the parties that has skin in this game. There is no way I can make a decision without a perception that my personal interests have coloured my judgment. I have a conflict of interest’. He should have then passed the issue on to his associate minister.
But he didn’t.
Instead, he handled the issue himself and decided to ban shectita.
To compound the conflict of interest, in making his decision Carter broke the rules. The law around animal slaughtering does not allow the minister to consider trade implications. Carter was only allows to consider animal welfare in making his decision. Yet the paper trial clearly shows that Carter did consider trade implications. Not only did he have a conflict of interest that should have barred him from making a decision in the first place, when it came to making the decision, Carter broke the rules to take special note of the consequences for companies he owns.
I’m going to say that again because it’s very important: in making his decision, Carter broke the law and the conflict of interest rules by considering the business implications for companies that he has a financial interest in.
What followed was the Jewish community taking a judicial review of Carter’s decision (where a court decides if the decision was made according to the rules). It appears Carter had lost one case and was about to lose another when he suddenly agreed to drop the ban on shechita. Crown Law won’t say how much the taxpayer has spent trying to defend Carter’s corruption.
I don’t see how a minister who acts with a clear conflict of interest to make a decision that advantages his personal financial interests and breaks the law to do so can be allowed to remain in office.
John Key, according to the report, is ‘relaxed’.