by Tony Orman
Way, way back in 1974 I wrote to the Labour government and in particular the Minister of Internal Affairs Henry May about a government proposal to reorganise acclimatisation societies the predecessor of today’s fish and game councils.
The proposal was a thinly disguised attempt to impose state control on the politically independent acclimatisation society structure of its democratically elected councils.
Most concerning was the proposal for a national executive which would see sportsmen’s representatives in a minority to government appointees.
Politely but firmly, I made my opposition clear. I was not alone. Many trout anglers and duck shooters were concerned too.
The reply from Henry May was startling.
In a three page typed letter he ranted back about how great his department’s scheme was and then berated me as being “ignorant, emotionally obsessed and loose with the facts.”
I consulted my friend John B Henderson, president of the NZ Deerstalkers Association about the three page tirade. His response was to laugh.
“You’ve hit a raw nerve, lad” he exclaimed. “If you hadn’t they would’ve brushed you off with polite thank-you-for-your- views reply.”
My friends reaction to minister Henry May’s tirade was that it was “appalling for a public servant”, “What happened to democracy and the people’s viewpoint” to “what a plonker”, “a bad joke” plus one or two friends laughing as they suggested May had correctly psycho-analysed me!
PM Loses Plot
I then sought an interview with Prime Minster Bill Rowling in Picton which came into his electorate. Ted Bason, good friend and fellow Marlborough Acclimatisation Society councillor, came with me. On the arranged time, Ted and I stepped into the interview room at the Oxley hotel on Picton’s waterfront. I introduced myself and before I could introduce Ted, the Prime Minister erupted.
“I know who you are!” he shouted. “You took a swing at my minster!”
He continued to shout. Ted and I stood there rather bemused.
PM Rowling recovered somewhat and spluttered “Ahem, well what do you want to see me about?”
It was all very bizarre and unreal, but it was happening.
Seriously though, even back then, the imposition of state control of acclimatisation societies was nothing new.
Some attempts have been more subtle and not so blatant but nevertheless they have occurred.
This year’s attempt by the Adern-led Labour government via the Department of Conservation is probably the 15th or 16th as far as I can ascertain.
And like State Bully Boy Henry May’s scheme, the proposals would see government appointees – or state puppets – on not only the national council but regional fish and game councils too.
New Zealand governments have been trying to grab control of the democratically elected Fish and Game organisation for decades.
Of course it wasn’t always known as Fish and Game. The first European settlers set up Acclimatisation Societies. New Zealand’s first acclimatisation society was probably in Auckland, around 1861. Many others soon followed.
Fish and Game New Zealand is the collective brand name of the New Zealand Fish and Game Council and 12 regional Fish and Game Councils, established in 1990 to represent the interests of anglers and hunters, and provide coordination of the management, enhancement, and maintenance of sports fish and game set up under Section 26B of the Conservation Act 1987.
Over the decades, governments were clearly intent to impose state control on acclimatisation societies.
One of the boldest attempts was the Hunn Commission of 1968 which contained the admission that it was the 10th investigation in 14 years.
In 1961 it was Leon Gotz, National’s Minister of Internal Affairs who made the play.
It failed but then in 1968, the biggest attack came from the Hunn Commission.
John B Henderson had been highly critical of the dictatorial manner of the government’s Hunn Commission.
In an editorial in NZDA’s magazine he said “Without warning or consultation —- with the Acclimatisation Society movement — the government arranged —- for the Committee of Inquiry and to quite arbitrarily define the terms of reference —-and setting up a hopeless time schedule.”
Still government’s persisted with attempts. Whereas in the 1930s and 1940s, Labour’s Minister of Internal Affairs William Parry and then in the 1960s Labour’s Henry May had spear headed takeover attempts in the 1980s, Dr. Peter Tapsell as minister attempted another but ran into spirited opposition.
A statement by Acclimatisation Society during one of the confrontations probably sums up the style of the attempted coups.
“Few sportsmen will swallow his familiar twisted formula of conquest by division, takeover and disinheritance.”
It very arguably applies to this year’s attempted coup.
Current Fish and Game NZ chairman Rainford (Ray) Grubb seems to have backed the fish and game review’s conclusions with statements n Radio NZ.
“The minister (Environment Minister David Parker) has endorsed that approach by recognising that I will continue as chair of Fish and Game, that Fish and Game will actually put in place the report itself rather than have it directed by the Department of Conservation, under whose Act we are set up. That will give us the confidence to be able to implement the review as well.”
But where is the consultation and the democratic structure and system of fish and game?
Fish and Game councillors are in essence public servants elected by the fishing and hunting public. The chairman, deputy chairman and councillors of Fish and Game NZ are duty bound to consult long and hard with the licence holding public and without prejudice, to listen.
A major blunder was made by the acclimatisation society national council when the Act setting up fish and game councils was passed. Throughout the law book, Fish and Game New Zealand is responsible “directly to the Minister of Conservation—-providing advice to the Minister of Conservation” etc., Tied to DOC’s apron strings.
Past arguments when I have raised the folly of this statutory obligation was that government would have closed Fish and Game down by taking over.
Yet governments have made 15 or 16 attempts in the past and each time, been repelled.
This year’s state takeover attempt should be – and can be – repelled too.
To me any government conceited enough to think it can do a better job of managing the public’s fish and game and associated environmental advocacy reeks of hypocrisy and arrogance. It is bizarre the Department of Conservation (DOC) has instigated and implemented the review.
Perhaps the Minsters of Conservation and Environment should be told that their ”experts” have a sorry track record.
DOC just goes not understand basic food chains and population dynamics and species characteristics. It drops toxins haphazardly against the manufacturer’s recommendations relative to removing poisoned carcasses and waterways, ignoring research as to disastrous effects on the ecosystem and not understanding as studies show that 1080 stimulates population explosions in rats and stoats.
DOC is a major spreader of 1080, an ecosystem poison, banned in many countries so that New Zealand leads the world in the poison’s use to the tune of over 90%. Worse still DOC top-dresses public lands with the toxin, with public consultation zero.
DOC seems unaware of any awareness of declining native bird numbers such as kingfishers, shining cuckoos and others, evident to observant anglers and shooters.
DOC seems oblivious of the rampant spread of Old Man’s Beard, smothering native vegetation in many places.
DOC dodges native fish management such as whitebait and eels simply because of commercial pressures.
DOC has failed time and time again to back Fish and Game submissions for Water Conservation Orders (WCOs) on rivers – the very habitat of native fish, which the department has a statutory obligation to protect.
In a few words, DOC cannot even meet its own lawful requirements.
If any agency is dysfunctional it is DOC.
DOC’s “anti-exotic wild animal phobia” is a hypocritical dogma that diminishes the bureaucracy’s integrity and ability to see wildlife situations in an objective manner.
Undeniably the list of DOC failures go on beyond these.
Notwithstanding there are some fine people in DOC particularly in the field, but head office bureaucracy and policies too often submerge them.
It is very likely appointees to the national Fish and Game council as envisaged by the review and on some regions will be bureaucrats with no appreciation our knowledge of the ethos of outdoor sports.
What guarantee is there that government appointments as the review pushes strongly for, understand the aspirations and ethics of the fishing and hunting public?
The policies required to sustain the large and socially important sports of fishing and hunting cannot be understood by some back room bureaucratic boffin who has never held a rod, gun or rifle in his or her life.
The chairman as per the review, is to be a government appointment, thus completing the virtual stranglehold on the discussions and decision making of the national council.
It’s said in the corporate world of companies a 25% shareholding is sufficient to control decision making. The review panel’s recommendation far exceed the crucial 25% mark.
The question is how will the 200,000 trout and salmon anglers and duck shooters react?
Tony Orman – 16th power grab by State
This year’s state takeover attempt should be – and can be – repelled too.