Tuesday, February 25: Greenpeace is calling on the Prime Minister to launch an external review into Talley’s-related fishing decisions made by this Government, in light of new revelations that tens of thousands of dollars have been donated to the New Zealand First Foundation by Talley’s without being declared publicly.
The environmental organisation would also like to see New Zealand First MPs excluded from future decisions about fishing.
Greenpeace Executive Director, Dr Russel Norman, says it’s important to ensure that decisions made by the Government regarding one of New Zealand’s major fishing companies have not been unduly influenced by the donations.
"Since this Government took office in 2017, there have been a series of critical decisions made by the Government to the benefit of Talley’s and to the detriment of the marine environment and recreational fishers," he says.
"New Zealand First has clearly been influencing decisions made about fishing policy, and at the same time Talley’s has been donating to the New Zealand First Foundation, which has not declared these donations. Minister Shane Jones has publicly said he’s happy to be known as the ‘ghost fishing Minister’.
"This raises serious questions about undeclared conflicts of interest."
The Electoral Commission has already formed a view that donations made to the New Zealand First Foundation by other sectors, including racing and forestry, were not disclosed as required under the Electoral Act 1993. The Commission has referred the matter to the Police, who have referred it to the Serious Fraud Office.
Norman wrote to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern last year requesting she ensure New Zealand First, and Minister Shane Jones, be kept out of fisheries related decisions. Ardern responded that the usual Cabinet conflict of interest rules would apply.
"The Prime Minister, like the rest of us, presumably didn’t then know about these newly revealed donations. This means she would not have been able to assess potential conflicts of interest that New Zealand First has been bringing to the Cabinet table," he says.
"This is relevant to decisions such as halting the rollout of cameras on fishing boats, which is also consistent with Talley’s opposition to cameras."
The commitment to put cameras on boats was made by the previous Government and the CEO of MPI in response to MPI’s failure to prosecute illegal fish dumping and underreporting of catch. At the time, Talley’s were found to be underreporting the weight of their cartons of fish, which Fisheries Officers considered unlawful.
Other critical Talley’s related decisions made by the Government include lobbying by a governmental delegation at a South Pacific fisheries meeting last week to get a Talley’s-owned fishing vessel off the draft international blacklist, after it was caught bottom trawling 14 times in a restricted area.
New Zealand First Minister Shane Jones publicly undermined MPI’s prosecution of the vessel by labeling it "a mere technical issue".
At the South Pacific Fisheries meeting, Norman says the New Zealand delegation was also an outlier, arguing against more protection for vulnerable marine ecosystems from bottom trawlers. Talley’s is one of two New Zealand fishing companies bottom trawling the South Pacific.
"In light of the donations of tens of thousands of dollars from Talley’s that the New Zealand First Foundation has kept secret, the Prime Minister needs to protect the integrity of the Government by initiating an external review of all Talley’s-related fishing decisions, and by keeping New Zealand First MP’s out of any future decisions about fishing," he says.