Allegation of funding threat, Minister says comments ‘misconstrued’

In a select committee submission,Steve Glassey, founder of Animal Evac NZ, alleged that a Minister said that criticisms could threaten funding. The Minister, Damien O’Connor, says that his comments were misconstrued.

Barry Soper (Newstalk ZB): Threat allegation – PM did not expect minsters’ behaviour

The threat allegation centres on last month’s fires in the Nelson district and it was made in a Parliamentary select committee by Steve Glassy.

The article repeatedly misspells Glassey’s name.

After initially being rejected Glassy and his team were invited back by MPI to do their stuff as things got worse.

As it is, his organisation wanted to work on the National Disaster Resilience Strategy to put in place a better system in the future.

MPI Minister Damien O’Connor had a word in his ear, in the presence of a volunteer, that he should be more positive about how the system was working and in the same breath is alleged to have talked about future funding.

As he was driving away, Glassy’s insistent O’Connor leaned out a passenger window and told him that “you can’t go riding us and then come to us for funding.”

O’Connor was quite up front about his conversation with Glassy but seemed to dig himself deeper into the hole he was trying to extract himself from.

He told the animal rescuer it’s really important to be positive “when we’re trying to negotiate a better deal with him.”

Jacinda Ardern said it was “absolutely not” the behaviour she’d expect of a minister and if evidence was provided she’d be open to seeing it.

The Country (NZH): Animal Evac NZ head Steve Glassey says MPI had no plan to look after animals during Nelson fire

The head of an animal evacuation charity which helped rescue pets and stock during the recent Nelson fires says a Government Minister threatened to pull its funding if he didn’t “play the game”.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor confirmed it was he who had spoken to Animal Evac NZ founder Steve Glassey but said the conversation was misconstrued.

Glassey today criticised the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and its response to the plight of animals stranded as people evacuated fire-hit areas during the Nelson fires earlier this year.

Glassey was making a submission to a committee of MPs today about the National Disaster Resilience Strategy.

“The Nelson fires repeated many of the major mistakes made in previous responses.

Despite the legal mandate for MPI to co-ordinate animal emergency plans, there was no animal management approved under the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act in effect at the time of the fire,” Glassey told the governance and administration committee.

That may the more important aspect of this story, but the threat accusation has attracted more attention to it.

“We have had veiled threats from officials and even a Minister that if we continue to draw attention to such deficiencies, our chances of getting funding will be affected,” Glassey told the committee.

“Yet, this Government repeatedly says it’s prepared to be held to account.”

Asked by MPs what had been conveyed, Glassey said “basically, if we don’t play the game we won’t get funding”.

O’Connor confirmed to reporters he and Glassey had spoken but he made no such threat.

“Steve will always extrapolate things out. I said it’s really important to be positive when we’re trying to negotiate a better deal with him. I think Steve going around criticising MPI staff at every single opportunity when everyone is doing their best is not a very productive way forward.”

O’Connor said Glassey would misunderstand anything regardless of what was said.

That sounds like there could be some history in the relationship between O’Connor and Glassey.

He said Nelson was an emergency situation, Glassey had gone behind the cordon.

“He had created some chaos and some challenges for the police and for MPI. It wasn’t a very productive situation.”

So it seems to be more than aa bit of criticism that is causing friction.

MPI’s director of animal health and welfare Chris Rodwell said Animal Evac NZ was one of several agencies invited to help with the response to the fires, along with the SPCA, the Helping You Help Animals charity and Massey University’s veterinary emergency response team.

“Animal Evac does not receive funding from MPI, so there are no plans to cut funding. We look to find funding to support services in every response we are involved in, including this one,” Rodwell said in a statement.

Supporting agencies were advised that travel and accommodation costs would be picked up by the Nelson Tasman Civil Defence Emergency Management group.

“It is up to them to seek reimbursement and we can facilitate this. In addition, charities involved are also able to apply to the mayoral fund,” Rodwell said.

Perhaps further clarification will be forthcoming.

Glassey had been closely involved with the SPCA for 30 years, but ‘stepped away’ in 2017 after two years heading the Wellington branch. See Research beckons Wellington SPCA chief as new structure rolled out