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News Release: Ministry of Fisheries vindicated

Wed, 26 May

News Release: Ministry of Fisheries vindicated

The Ministry of Fisheries has been vindicated and the integrity and effectiveness of its management and staff has been unequivocally affirmed, says Warwick Tuck, Chief Executive of the Ministry of Fisheries. Mr Tuck's statement was made in response to the findings released today by the Reviewers appointed by the State Services Commissioner to inquire into allegations regarding the management of the scampi fishery.

The Reviewers' findings follow similar findings by the Primary Production Committee Inquiry last year, as well as the Serious Fraud Office findings in 2002 and the findings of the independent barrister instructed by the Solicitor General, also in 2002.

"In all of these Inquiries and investigations, no corruption or impropriety by staff of either the former Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, or the current Ministry of Fisheries, was found, as alleged by certain fishers and former staff in a 2002 Television One Assignment programme.

"Not only was no corruption or impropriety found, but no significant concerns were found with current fisheries management practice.

"The public should take great confidence that after exhaustive investigation, the current management of fisheries in this country has been demonstrated to be of a high ethical and professional standard and beyond reproach, says Mr Tuck.

"This succession of time-consuming, rigorous and demanding investigations and Inquiries has had a very personal focus with the Ministry staff publicly named. These two staff members, Stan Crothers and Dave Wood, have both been completely and unreservedly vindicated by each of the Inquiries. The Reviewers found there was nothing to substantiate the allegations which they stated had no foundation. The allegations and the subsequent investigations and Inquiries have been at considerable personal and professional cost to Messrs Crothers and Wood.

"The State Services Commissioner's Inquiry report makes the point that many witnesses, whose allegations sparked these Inquiries, have since resiled from their earlier affidavits, effectively acknowledging that they were baseless in the first place. I find these tactics, because that is what they are, of attacking public officials without good cause and without substantiated evidence to be repugnant. They do not serve the interests of either the public or the public service. More "Fisheries is a fiercely competitive and robust sector. It relies upon careful and judicious management and firm compliance. The Ministry of Fisheries, which is right in the middle of the sector, has to strike a balance between maintaining relationships including consultation with the sector and objectivity in all its dealings. And we do. The skill and judgement required has evolved since 1986 when the Quota Management System was first introduced. Now we have a system that is widely regarded as the best in the world. This is a tribute to the hard work and commitment to high standards of all those involved.

"None of the recommendations cast doubt on the value of the QMS or the Ministry of Fisheries' management of our fisheries resources. There is clear evidence in the report that the administration of fisheries by the Ministry of Fisheries since 1995 has been of a high standard and the systems and processes back in the early 1990s that were found wanting in the report have long since been remedied.

"We have a strong culture of improvement in the Ministry of Fisheries. Each of the Reviewers'' recommendations will be examined. A number of the matters raised by the Reviewers such as the Public Service Code of Conduct and training of staff are matters for the public service as a whole to address.

One particular point raised by the Reviewers is that the Ministry exhibited a defensive attitude throughout the Inquiry proceedings.

"This is something we intend to look at. However, it is important to recognise that the Ministry is required to manage in a very competitive and litigious sector. Our legislation is very specific and we must operate within it. And we do. In addition, we are protecting a national asset worth around one and a half billion dollars a year to this country in export receipts and which employs around 26,000 people directly and indirectly. Our fisheries also have important social and cultural values for the nation.

"As Chief Executive of the Ministry of Fisheries I have no hesitation in vigorously defending my staff against baseless allegations and will continue to do so. This is exactly what I have done in response to the scampi allegations during the last two years.

It is now time for the Ministry to get back to focusing solely on the management of our valuable fisheries resource," says Mr Tuck.

The cost to the Ministry of Fisheries alone for the Select Committee and the State Services Commissioner's Inquiries which took some 18 months, totals in excess of $4.5 million.


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