The question of whether a Minister has interfered in Environmental Protection Authority staffing matters has been rekindled after Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage revised her account of what happened.
The Green Party Minister now says she didn’t meet with the EPA’s chief executive Allan Freeth when she previously said she did and she doesn’t think she discussed the EPA’s controversial chief scientist with him like she said she had, Radio New Zealand reported this morning.
According to the Radio New Zealand report (HERE):
The scientist, Jacqueline Rowarth, resigned this year after Ms Sage, the associate Environment Minister, and others raised concerns about her conduct with Dr Freeth.
As well as forwarding a highly critical article about Dr Rowarth to the EPA, Ms Sage told Parliament 10 days ago she met with Dr Freeth and discussed her.
“I advised the EPA chief executive that my office had received correspondence expressing some concerns about media comments by the chief scientist – I was told the matter was in hand, there was no substantive discussion,” Ms Sage told the House.
Those comments led to accusations from National that Ms Sage had inappropriately interferred in staff matters at the EPA.
They have led to Dr Freeth returning to Parliament today, to explain why he told MPs he’d had “absolutely no discussions” with Ms Sage on the matter.
Ms Sage now maintains she was wrong all along – and that her memory let her down.
“I was relying on my memory, and when we checked it was actually a meeting with the Ministry for the Environment – not with the EPA, so when I raised that (Dr Rowarth’s behaviour) it was with the chief executive of the MfE.”
Ms Sage said she met with the EPA’s Dr Freeth at a later date, when asked whether she discussed Dr Rowarth at the meeting she responded “my memory is that I didn’t”.
But National’s environment spokesperson Scott Simpson is sceptical.
“It’s very confusing for her (Sage), because for her not to be able to distinguish between the chief scientist of the EPA, a middle aged male, versus the chief executive of the Ministry for the Environment, a female, is beyond belief.”
Ms Sage said she had learnt a valuable lesson – it is not to rely on her memory but to check the records.
Dr Freeth will appear before the Environment select committee this morning.