O'Connor keeps MPI as one ministry, but with 4 entities


Minister of Primary Industries Damien O'Connor. Photo by Lynn Grieveson

Agriculture, Food Safety and Biosecurity Minister Damien O'Connor has decided to keep the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) intact as one ministry, but it will reorganise it into four branches.

Those entities are Fisheries New Zealand, Forestry New Zealand, Biosecurity New Zealand and New Zealand Food Safety.

There was discussion early in the Government's formation that MPI would be broken back up to its original constituent ministries of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. The previous Government merged the three ministries into MPI in 2012, but it faced criticism in recent years about its performance around bio-security, which was just one part of the mega-ministry.

O'Connor said MPI's name would not change and it would remain the host agency for the new branches.

He said MPI had developed four options for changes, including the establishment of four separate agencies. MPI had also considered the potential effects on trade and market access of any changes to MPI's status as New Zealand's 'Competent Authority.' MPI had decided it was important to keep branding consistency and the assurances to overseas partners that New Zealand's products were fit to export, which would avoid potential for disruption to trade.

"The Government made the decision that four new, separately branded portfolio-based branches within MPI is the best option to minimise the cost and loss of productivity to MPI while also achieving the necessary refocusing of MPI."

"We had the unfortunate incident when MPI was formed that the competent authority was not recognised by our overseas trading partners. Meat sat on the wharves in China," O'Connor said.

"We believe that maintaining the Ministry for Primary Industries as the competent authority to deal with those certification issues will remove the risk of that occurring again," he said.

The change will take place in early 2018 and be complete by April 2018. It would cost $6.8 million to create the four business nunits, with extra ongoing operating costs of $2.3 million per year. The funds would come from reprioritised spending from the Primary growth Partnership Fund, O'Connor said.

MPI would build up its presence in Rotorua and O'Connor gave an assurance there would be no redundancies, saying MPI had been squeezed for funding since 2012 and had lost good staff because of it.

Forestry Minister Shane Jones said he was presented with a choice of a restructured new ministry that delayed new tree planting or being able to eventually plant one billion trees. He said he wanted to keep the Prime Minister happy, given she had promised the one billion trees at a climate change conference.

He also said he would also like to see the crown-owned Scion be renamed as the Forestry Research Institute.

Opposition spokesman Nathan Guy said millions would be wasted on a wasted and ill-conceived rebrand.

“The worst part of it is though, that the money is essentially being fleeced from the Primary Growth Partnership Fund – used for essential research and development - to pay for bureaucracy," Guy said.

Stuart Nash is the Fisheries Minister.

(Updated with comments from Jones and Guy and O'Connor)