It’s the lies that get you. That’s what Agriculture Minister David Carter and John Key are learning as more details of Carter’s conflict of interest over the legislation that removed the Environment Canterbury councilare emerging. That Carter attempted to interfere in a judicial process that had a direct impact on irrigation for his farm and didn’t declare that the government’s legislation to impose a dictatorship in Canterbury would benefit him financially are bad enough for him to resign. But the subsequent attempts to cover it up are what’s going to put the nails in his coffin.
Here’s Russel Norman’s summary of the issue:
One of the things the ECAN Act does is make it more likely that the planned dam on the Hurunui River will go ahead.
Last year, a bunch of environmental groups applied for a Water Conservation Order on the Hurunui River, in part to stop the dam.
David Carter owns a farm in the Hurunui district, very close to the proposed boundaries of the area that will be irrigated if the dam goes ahead.
Although his farm is not inside this area, he stands to benefit financially from the irrigation scheme because his existing consent to irrigate is subject to minimum flow restrictions. There may be occasions when the property cannot be irrigated when the river drops below minimum flow. If the HWP goes ahead and dams are built in the upper reaches, they would have to guarantee 100% reliability to existing water takers from the Hurunui River. This would mean greater security for the Minister’s consent, and potential increased property values and productivity for his property.
I think this is a potential conflict of interest that the Minister should have declared when Cabinet was discussing ECAN. After all, the Act makes it easier for an irrigation scheme to go ahead, and he stands to benefit financially from that scheme.
Worse, the Minister seems to have inappropriately tried to intervene in the Water Conservation Order process. He approached the people who applied for the Water Conservation order at a function in September last year and asked them to freeze their application, even though there was a judicial process underway.
Then the lies began.
Norman asked Carter, by way of written parliamentary question, if “he discussed an appeal on the special tribunal’s report on a Water Conservation Order application on the Hurunui River with any party; if so, who, when and what was the nature of that discussion?”
Carter’s answer was “no”.
Norman has since presented a file note from Forest and Bird’s Chris Todd, whom Carter had approached about freezing the Water Conservation order proving that Carter had in fact discussed it, contrary to his answer to the written question.
When Norman asked Key in the House if he had known about Carter’s conflict of interest and his attempt to influence a judicial process in his favour, Key said no. Now, we learn that Key received a letter about the issue from Forest and Bird in December.
Key’s office’s response is a childish: ‘the Prime Minister’s office received thousands of pieces of correspondence, including emails, in December’. Yeah, but you’re actually meant to read them all guys. That’s why the PM has 50-odd staff in his office.
And how many of those pieces of correspondence pointed to a conflict of interest for one of his ministers? We can’t be expected to believe that Key received information that one of his ministers was interfering in a judicial process and had a significant conflict of interest, and that this information was ignored or lost. No political office is that incompetent, let alone Key’s.
Carter and Key now have to explain why they have lied and misled, which will be tricky to explain if they continue to insist there’s no ministerial misbehaviour to cover up.