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SMC: Chief scientist hands off

Chief scientist hands off

There's a changing of the guard in the Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor's office from this week to next.

Outgoing PMCSA Sir Peter Gluckman spoke to the NZ Herald ahead of finishing in the role after three terms; his successor, Professor Juliet Gerrard, takes over from 1 July.

Sir Peter told the NZ Herald his early years in the newly-formed role were focused on "explaining and showing the value of why evidence was worth focusing on".

"There were departments that reached out to academics, and there were some scientists buried within ministries like the Department of Conservation and the Ministry for the Environment.

"But if you think about the general level, about how the Government thought about addressing complex issues, there was really no systematic way to do it."

Now there is a team of departmental science advisors, but Sir Peter said he'd like to see more. "We clearly need one in urban affairs, one in biosecurity, one in energy and related matters, and one in the demographic area.

"And I've been like a broken record in pointing out that, even though we have a chief technology officer, we also need a science adviser for digital matters."

He expressed gratitude to the three prime ministers he had worked with. "I've never felt that any of them thought I was partisan, and I've never felt that any of them were not respectful of what we are trying to do.

"It's been a privileged position, and I've enjoyed it, but now it's time for somebody else to do it."

Sir Peter has been a strong supporter of the Science Media Centre since he took up the role and we have appreciated his staunch advocacy for evidence-based policy.

He will now focus on establishing the Centre for Science in Policy, Diplomacy and Society within the University of Auckland's Public Policy Institute.

Sir Peter also wrote an essay reflecting on his time in the role and will talk to Kim Hill tomorrow morning on Radio NZ.

Quoted: NZ Herald
"The beautiful thing about Māori astronomy is that, like most astronomical cultures around the world, it's a melting together of indigenous astronomy.

"That's not just the science around the rising and setting of different celestial features, but also how it's embedded in ceremonies, practices and language."
University of Waikato astronomer Dr Rangi Matamua
on how encouraging it is to see other cultures celebrating Matariki, and why he believes it should be a public holiday.

No consensus on nutrients
The Land and Water Forum has reported back to Government with a series of recommendation for improving water quality, but has been unable to come to an agreement on nutrient allocation.
Minister for the Environment David Parker and Minister of Agriculture Damien O’Connor asked the Forum in January for advice on a nationallydriven system for allocating nutrient loads. In its report back, the Forum suggested a staged process for addressing allocation of nitrogen discharges, which would add limits on nitrogen in water bodies and an interim national framework to allow transition from current practices.
The Forum also called for a new Land and Water Commission to provide the capability needed for change in addressing water quality. Environmental Defence Society CEO Gary Taylor said this was the most important recommendation in the report.
“There is also a critical role for the Minister for the Environment, with the Forum recommending the use of prohibited activity status or moratoria to ‘stop the rot’ in catchments where water quality is dire and councils aren’t acting fast enough,” he said.
“In some catchments this might mean no more cows until plans are set; in others it might be a short term stop to subdivision.”
Minister Parker told Radio NZ that because the Forum has been unable to reach a consensus, “the mandate passes to central Government and it’s our obligation to actually sort that out”.
“They’ve put themselves in abeyance … we might go back to them in respect of some solutions in the future but in the meantime yes, they’re in abeyance. I think they realise that they’ve come to a natural endpoint, that there are some things that you actually can’t get agreement on through collaboration because of the competing private interests.”

Policy news & developments

Kaikōura research presented: Researchers presented a variety of findings from post-earthquake research around Kaikōura, including impacts on fisheries and local wildlife.

Threatened sharks: The great white shark and the basking shark have been classified as threatened for the first time.

Parental leave increases: From July 1, parents of babies due or delivered on this date will be eligible for 22 weeks of paid leave, up from the current 18 weeks.

Petrol prices: The excise duty on petrol will increase by 10.5 cents per litre over the next two years.

Superu closes: The Family Commission, which went under the name Superu, officially closed today, after the Families Commission Act Repeal Act was passed earlier this year.

Ageing strategy released: A discussion document and consultation has opened on a new positive ageing strategy for an ageing population.

Largest pest-free island: $2 million over three years will be invested in making the subantarctic, 46,000ha Auckland Island predator free.

This week on the NZ Conversation.

Gaming or gambling: study shows almost half of loot boxes in video games constitute gambling
Aaron Drummond, Massey University; James Sauer, University of Tasmania

Female suicide bombers: how terrorist propaganda radicalises Indonesian women

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