Landcare Research’s excuses don’t stack up
8 July 2005 - Wellington
Solid Energy and Landcare Research’s excuses don’t stack up
Counter claims by Landcare Research CEO, Dr Andy Pearce and Solid Energy CEO Dr Don Elder over the withdrawal of a witness from an Environment Court hearing don’t stack up against information obtained under the Official Information Act, Forest and Bird said today.
“If there was no pressure to withdraw the witness, what on earth were Dr Pearce and Dr Elder trying to "compromise" over?” Forest and Bird’s Conservation Manager Kevin Hackwell asked.
“Landcare Research’s own lawyer is on record as advising that unless Dr Pearce and Dr Elder could reach a compromise, Landcare Research would have to seek the scientist’s withdrawal as a witness, or limit him to acting in a personal capacity. If Solid Energy wasn’t seeking the withdrawal of the scientist, why was there a need to seek such a compromise?”
Following discussions between Dr Pearce and Dr Elder, Dr Pearce told the scientist that he could only appear as a private consultant, although Forest and Bird and the Buller Conservation Group had contracted him as a Landcare Research scientist. “Dr Pearce’s claim that he did not pressure a scientist to withdraw from giving evidence is less than the full story. The scientist was put in such a position that any person with integrity would have no choice but to withdraw,” he said.
“Instructing the scientist concerned and other staff involved in the Cypress mine case not to mention his more than 30 years employment by Landcare and its predecessors created the circumstances where withdrawal was inevitable,” he said.
“The scientist was put in an untenable position. He could not have given evidence without misleading the Court. If the scientist had obeyed his employer’s instructions in his written brief of evidence and during cross-examination in Court he would not have been telling the whole truth as required.”
“Dr Pearce claims Landcare Research frequently had scientists appearing as witnesses for varying parties, but has failed to adequately explain why it was not possible in this case. Landcare Research’s own records state that staff were concerned that contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars were at risk.”
“It is revealing that Dr Pearce instructed Landcare Research staff to conceal a scientist’s employment from the Environment Court after discussing the matter with Solid Energy CEO Dr Don Elder,”he said. “Dr Elder's claims that Solid Energy didn’t try to prevent a Landcare Research scientist from appearing at the case and that he merely ‘pointed the situation out to’ Dr Pearce is laughable. Just look at the facts.”
“One of Landcare Research’s own scientists was asked about Solid Energy’s views on the matter and reported that Solid Energy would be most unhappy, that the appearance of the witness for Forest and Bird could adversely affect contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and that Dr Elder would be contacting Dr Pearce to talk about the issue.”
“Forest and Bird did not raise the issue at the hearing because it was more appropriate to focus on the mine's environmental effects, rather than the conduct of Solid Energy’s CEO. At that point we also did not have the results of the Official Information Act request and Ombudsman’s review that have been so revealing.”
"With this further information, Forest and Bird asked the Government to investigate the conduct of the agencies involved.”
Solid Energy media release – 8 Aug 2005
Coal producer Solid Energy NZ Ltd rejects any allegation that it tried to prevent a Landcare Research wetland ecologist from providing evidence on behalf of Forest and Bird at a recent Environment Court hearing.
“I rang Andy Pearce, CEO Landcare, and pointed the situation out to him and left him to deal with it as he saw fit,”[Dr Elder].
Internal email (12 December 2004) from senior Landcare Research manager, Dr David Choquenot:
“SE has gotten wind of this and is understandably keen that we withdraw from the appellants’ side of the case”.
Email from Andy Pearce, dated 15 December 2004, subject heading: “ URGENT: Re: Environment Court Evidence – Solid Energy’s Cypress Mine”:
“Further to my message yesterday, and a subsequent discussion with Don Elder, CEO of Solid Energy it is imperative that our staff giving evidence do NOT refer to [the scientist] as a Landcare Research employee. Please ensure that everyone associated with this matter takes great care to avoid referring to or acknowledging [the scientist] as a Landcare Research employee in discussion, evidence or conversation….”
According to a chronology of events released by Landcare Research:
On 12 December 2004, Landcare Research scientist Dr. Simcock (client for Solid Energy) was asked by a senior Landcare Research manager David Choquenot whether Landcare Research’s policy of allowing witnesses to appear for both sides would be acceptable to Solid Energy.
On the same day Dr Simcock responded to Dr Choquenot and Landcare Research legal advisor Pam Pye that Solid Energy would be “most unhappy and that the long standing, mutually beneficial research relationship between Landcare Research and Solid Energy, as well as contracts worth several hundred thousand dollars, could be adversely affected.” Dr Simcock’s response was initially withheld from Forest and Bird and was only released after an investigation by the Ombudsman.
Dr Simcock further advised on the same day that “Solid Energy’s chief executive Don Elder would be contacting Landcare Research’s chief executive Andy Pearce”. This information was also withheld from Forest and Bird and was only released after an investigation by the Ombudsman.
Dr Simcock further stated that “Solid Energy would be most unhappy for Landcare Research to represent both perspectives.”