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*Pic: Laurie Collins ... “it’s plain melodramatic spying”

South Island bush robin - 1080 poisoning saves birds, says DOC … but in fact is killing thousands

New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DoC) has been accused of spying on New Zealanders opposed to the department’s widespread and increasing use of 1080 poison.  Radio NZ recently revealed the department had used a security firm Thompson and Clark which used secret chat channels to communicate with the department with information about members of the public it had monitored.

The conservation public were outraged.

Andi Cockroft, co-chairman Council of Outdoor Recreation Associations of NZ (CORANZ) said the spying was appalling.

“It clearly demonstrates the low levels to which the public’s government agencies will go to while pushing their abhorrent poisoning programme,” he said.

DOC had refused to release information between Thompson and Clark and the department.

“Worse still is DOC hiding behind OIA get-out clauses when they could easily release sufficient redacted information to prove or disprove the allegations,” added Andi Cockroft.

The Department of Conservation had used Thompson and Clark since late 2016, to monitor people opposed to 1080 poison.

Laurie Collins spokesman for the Sporting Hunters Outdoor Trust (SHOT) said the spying activity was melodramatic.

“It’s bizarre but it’s also a dangerous affront to democracy. New Zealand is a democracy not a dictatorship run by bureaucrats with Big Brother monitoring citizens.”

He said the spying was a total denial of democracy. The Department officers were public servants supposedly accountable to the public.

“They are actually spying on their employers, the taxpaying public who pay DOC’s bills and salaries. It’s melodramatic nonsense and police state behaviour you’d expect in a Third World country.”

Among activities between the surveillance firm and the departments’ bureaucrats was a weekly phone briefing involving senior staff from both organisations.  However DOC refused to release any information from any of the channels.

“It is deemed that providing such information may prevent supply of such information in the future and therefore jeopardise the safety of our staff,” DOC’s director of safety, Harry Maher, said in an Official Information Act response.

Radio NZ’s Checkpoint programme said DOC had spent $103,187 excluding GST with Thompson and Clark since 2015 and paid $3737 per month for the intelligence Thompson and Clark provided about anti-1080 activists. It was termed a “risk assessment package”.

But Laurie Collins said ”risk assessment package” was “departmental gobbledegook”.

“It’s spying, not risk assessment,” he said.

Harry Maher said DOC staff could be harassed if the intelligence from those channels was released, “and it also runs the risk of driving some of the conversations underground”.

“Aren’t people allowed to discuss their concerns with each other?” asked Laurie Collins. “Freedom of speech principles are being infringed.”

NZ’s Prime Minister Jacinda Aderern was not impressed with DOC’s furtive spying. Greenpeace has also alleged it was spied on by Thompson and Clark, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern last month warned government departments against using the firm to spy on the public.

“Their behaviour around spying and so on is totally inappropriate,”  said NZ’s prime minister.

Tony Orman is a Journalist/Editor. He lives in BLENHEIM, 7201, New Zealand

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