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Conservation Minister forgetting lessons of Cave Creek

4 May 2013

Conservation Minister forgetting lessons of Cave Creek

Conservation Minister Nick Smith must remember the lessons of Cave Creek and stop the current Department of Conservation (DOC) restructuring, the Green Party said today.

“As Conservation Minister post Cave Creek, Nick Smith oversaw a departmental re-organisation in 1996-97 which established clear lines of accountability for DOC staff. Now he is sitting on his hands while that is undone,” said Green Party conservation spokesperson Eugenie Sage.

“The Minister needs to act on the findings in the Cooper report, an independent and hard hitting review of DOC’s organisational changes, which the PSA commissioned and released yesterday.

“Serious attention needs to be paid to the increased risk of systemic failure that the Cooper report identifies.

“Nick Smith needs to answer the question posed by the report: ‘what is driving the Director-General to move at a pace that creates extreme risks?’” said Ms Sage.

The Department’s Acting Director-General is due to announce final decisions on DOC’s restructure to staff on Tuesday 7 May.

The proposed new DOC structure splits the department into a “partnership” arm and a conservation “services” arm with the loss of 80 jobs.

The Cooper report says the proposed new structure risks the muddled reporting and management systems which contributed to the Cave Creek platform collapse which killed 13 students and a DOC worker and seriously injured others.

The Cooper review says “the creation of separate parts of the organisation with conflicting purposes is a grave mistake”, “is far from best practice” and “has been tried in other organisations and proven to be dysfunctional”.

Findings of the report include:

· “Different purposes create a constant need for people to negotiate with each other to get anything done. This was the situation that existed pre Cave Creek and it creates considerable waste as well as risk.” (p14)

· “The dissolution of the concept of integrated conservation management which has been a core aspect of the success of the post Cave Creek report should be treated as a matter of concern.” (p15)

· There is no “description of how and why the existing structure is inadequate. No reasoned case is made for the need for structural change.”

· “Staff have learnt the lessons from Cave Creek and their analysis is correct. The proposed restructure does lose the lessons and increase the risk of systemic failure. Dismissing these concerns is dangerous both from a technical organisation perspective and from a leadership perspective.” (p16)

· “The question must be asked – what is driving the Director-General to move at a pace that creates extreme risks?” (p13)

“Few people are better qualified to analyse and comment on the risks of DOC’s proposed new structure than the independent report’s author Peter Cooper,” said Ms Sage.

Immediately after Cave Creek in 1996 Mr Cooper reviewed the Department of Conservation in response to the systemic issues identified by Judge Noble in the 1996 Commission of Inquiry report. Mr Cooper’s recommendations on organisational design are the basis of the department’s current structure.


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