Press Release – GE Free NZ
Senior officers at Auckland Council have undue sway on information and processes that weakens local democracy and impacts the access councillors have to key documents.
Elected representatives rely on receiving the best information and advice but there is worrying evidence of senior council officers deliberately managing the flow of information and restricting access to documents, with undue effect on council deliberation and decisions.
The meeting of the Auckland Plans Committee on Tuesday 12 February was a travesty because key documents from the council’s interworking party on GMO’s were not provided to councillors, despite being on the agenda and notified a week prior.
The chairman of the council’s collaborative working party was forced to remain silent while other potentially confusing information about GMO regulations was produced literally overnight and then distributed at the very last hour.
On Monday evening, the night before the committee meeting, Auckland’s representative on the working party Councillor Wayne Walker was advised by Helen White, Manager Public Law that legal information would be provided to councillors ‘in coming weeks’ by James Hassell from the Litigation and Regulatory Legal team.
At 9 am the following morning, an hour before the meeting, a legal memorandum was suddenly sent to all councillors, casting doubt on the council-funded section 32 analysis by the working group.
It is not clear if the legal advisor has read the full Section 32 analysis report provided by the inter-council working party, but some comments in the memorandum suggest not.
The memorandum says it is possible for council to include provisions on GMOs in plans but adds “the major difficulty all the opinions identify is providing sufficient justification in terms of the requirements of section 32 of the Resource Management Act 1991 for the inclusion of such provisions”.
The report of the council-funded inter-council working party is a comprehensive Section 32 analysis under the RMA, but the statement seems to imply this is not the case.
There is suspicion raised by the sudden appearance of this memorandum, why it appeared literally overnight, and why the legal team have failed to engage in the process undertaken by the inter-council working party with Auckland Council as a member.
“The Section 32 analysis is a Council report. Yet officers have failed to properly brief their own staff or elected representatives about councils’ 8-year consultation and best-practice plans process. They have then failed to ensure key documents are in the hands of elected representatives,” says Jon Carapiet, spokesman for GE-free NZ in food and environment.
“It is astonishing that the person with the expert knowledge to properly inform the committee was sitting in the room but kept silent. Although working party chairman Kerry Grundy was present Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse never invited him to speak or to answer questions at the meeting.”
Mayor Len Brown was not at the meeting despite requests from the public for him to show leadership and ensure councillors are properly informed about the recommendations of the inter-council working party.
Members of the public who watched the vote at the Plans Committee were also surprised by the Independent Statutory Maori Board representatives voting against consulting the public on the proposed precautionary wording on GMOs.
“Maori Board members may have also been disadvantaged by not having adequate information because council officers had chosen not to provide it,” says Jon Carapiet.
“Councillors were not even given the cover note from inter-council report, though officers knew it was the subject of a vote. Instead a last-minute memorandum was seemingly created overnight and released at the request of unelected senior council officers, with significant impact on the decision.”