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Tacklebox Politics by Bill Cooke - 24 November 2000

The Axe Must Fall

As I write it is a one month countdown to the end of the proposed consultation process around the Ministry of 'Commercial' Fisheries Sounding Document.

I say 'proposed' tongue in cheek as I believe the process will be extended by Fisheries Minister, Pete Hodgson, in the next while, and you will see throughout this column I will be isolating Pete from what has become clearly now 'the Scam Soundings' and its process. 

I believe from the very start Stan Crothers and his team set out to dilute the New Zealand public's properly constituted rights, in law and in perpetuity.  This same group set out to cap the New Zealand public's take of fish from the sea around our coast and for whose benefit? - you decide! I strongly hope the non-believers now understand the terminology "Ministry of 'Commercial' Fisheries."  This whole process is about the Ministry protecting and strengthening the fishing industry's position and it's not new.  On many occasions this last long while the industry has been shielded.  Other government department's new laws and regulations, supposedly on conservation matters, repeatedly step around and leave this industry untouched. 

The only exception is the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park where that forum has been given strong powers to ensure the protection of fish stocks or marine life inside its boundaries and this is most welcome.

In the main it is a cosy privileged niche the industry has been enjoying. 

The association with industry is there for all to see - let's start with the Soundings video.  For those who have not seen it, it sets out to split the Options into 3 areas, but in reality they are variations of the same theme.  The two big crimes in the video are (a) the shepherding of people towards Option 3 and, (b) the section put in the middle at, I'm told, the insistence of industry,  where it talks carefully about upsetting the commercial fishers and the dangers of attacking their rights and employment prospects. Why was industry involved in the first place, is not the  issue about the public right? 

While that piece was screening, the video was careful not to show a bag of fish or the crushed ones that would be sticking through the cod end mesh as it was being brought aboard.  I understand the Rights Working Group were never shown this section of the video, there wasn't even a priority right in the document until Keith Ingram put it directly to the Minister in his office. 

Thereafter it was neatly buried deep and the clear intention was to have masses of confused submissions from whence they the Ministry could pick the answer they wanted from the process.  I'm told that is bureaucratic procedure when a specific result is sought from several options. Fortunately option4 and the public's ability to sniff a scam has put a sticky end to the treachery. 

The major evidence against the Ministry's rights group is its initial failure to carry the process through with integrity.  For example, there were only 10,000 Soundings Documents and three months for consultation for such an important matter as the rights of our families and their children for generations to come.  Advertising was ill placed and poorly timed and if it wasn't for the option4 Group and NZ Fishing News, hardly a soul would know about this devious process.  One must ask if that was the deliberate intention? As it is, there is still widespread ignorance of the process and the apparent intention to cap off the public's take and to avoid compensation for failing to include the public in the 1986 QMS Inception. 

It is very clear from Jenny McMurran's remarks at Papatoetoe, and Max Heatherington's at Gisborne, that the Soundings process was orchestrated to an agenda by the Crothers lead team and as such was always going to be a seriously manipulated and underhand document once Treasury had finished with it.

I also have the honestly held belief that it is highly likely this huge show of contempt, which grew its roots under Luxton's era, could be designed to leave this current and relatively new Minister in a sinister light with the public. A new Minister that has got on with it by and large - and I offer the Tauranga Harbour closures as evidence of this - and a Minister who has declared he will not be captivated by any one group.  Nonetheless, this belief is further reinforced by the dumping earlier this year in his lap of the total mess of the East Coast oreo dory and orange roughy fisheries, when the true story of the over-fishing and depletion has just surfaced publicly.  However it was common knowledge around the fishing ports way back long before Pete Hodgson appeared on the scene that the fishery was in serious trouble

We are now getting very close to the need for a full public enquiry on the shocking performance in this failed Ministry.

Honestly readers, I can see Pete Hodgson could end up quite isolated in this current Ministry. From what I can see, he has far too many right wing. treasury-driven staff too close to him for comfort!  And my most trusted birdie in Wellington has confided in me that he's seen all this stuff before.  He suggests 'sooner or later' they will roll the Minister 'as that is just the way it always happens'.

Furthermore, I'm told too how our Minister is continuously challenging these MOCF people to do things in a different and better way. I'm certain were I to probe deeper I would find that my honestly held beliefs are probably just the tip of the iceberg.  Continually ripping dollars out of our fishery and caring nothing for conservation of fish in the process, whilst always carrying on the continuing con to the public that we have this magnificent Quota Management System in NZ. 

The reality is fishery after fishery is on the brink of collapse because commercial fishing has not been constrained.

The likes of Stan Crothers and his team must be made accountable. In December '98 at an Auckland meeting Mr Crothers and his offsider Caroline Risk assured us the primary taker regime would be publicly reviewed then promptly did an about take.  The ministry has failed to deliver to the NZ public a properly carried through process to ratify the massive blunder the Ministry made in 1986 when they left the NZ public out of the QM system! He stands as the 2IC in the Ministry and has clearly demonstrated he has a bias for the commercial way of doing things at the peril of the general public's right.

So why is option4 sweeping the country in the way it is?  I believe the answers are very simple.  For the last 20 years the public of NZ have seen their patches of the fishery systematically stripped by commercial over fishing.  They have witnessed the total inability of the Ministry of Fisheries to constrain commercial behaviour which includes amongst other things  mostly unseen and unreported wastage, shoddy fishing methodology and black marketing. And more than anything else, the public know they have been left out and treated with arrogance and contempt when it came to fair and reasonable access to their fishery.


The public have been treated with arrogance and contempt

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