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Government ministry crushes community watchdog

5 November, 2004

Government ministry crushes community watchdog

Green MP, Sue Kedgley says the public should be outraged and alarmed at the way in which a major government department is hounding Hamilton watchdog group, Watch, into bankruptcy.

Watch had taken the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) to court in an effort to halt the aerial spraying of Foray 48B over the city. The court found in favour of MAF and awarded the ministry $8000 in court costs. Watch doesn't have the funds to pay and faces a liquidation hearing in December.

"Watch was simply seeking to protect the community against a mass aerial spraying programme that posed serious health risks," said Ms Kedgley, the Green Party Health spokesperson. "Information has since come to light that suggests MAF and the Ministry of Health withheld important information."

Ms Kedgley said the hounding of community watchdogs by government departments was a sinister development, and an abuse of the powers of the state.

Ms Kedgley said there seemed to be an increasing trend amongst government agencies of crushing community watchdog groups that dared to stand up to them. Recently, Transit New Zealand forced the Wellington anti-bypass campaign into liquidation.

"Government agencies don't have to pay their legal bills through cake stalls or community raffles," said Ms Kedgley. "They can instead draw on the vast reserves of the state to squash opposition."

Ms Kedgley said MAF's actions against Watch were particularly galling given that important evidence wasn't presented during the court case.

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MAF presented affidavits to court, checked by the Ministry of Health, stating that there was no new information as to the health effects of the spray. However, answers to parliamentary questions have revealed that, only seven days before the court case, the Ministry of Health had received a draft of the Wellington School of Medicine report into the health effects of the spray.

Ms Kedgley said the draft report raised serious health concerns. "The lead author of that report has since published a new article recommending that the spray program be suspended until the health issues are checked out - exactly what Watch was asking for.

"Neither MAF nor the Ministry of Health ever drew the Court's attention to the new information. In fact, they told the court that there was no information."


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