Simon Upton to return to NZ as environment commissioner

Only New Zealand First opposed his appointment.
Simon Upton

Simon Upton, the former National Party environment minister and head of the OECD's Environment Directorate, will return to New Zealand to replace Jan Wright as Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

Parliament passed a motion agreeing to Mr Upton's appointment with all parties agreeing, bar New Zealand First.

The party's deputy leader, Ron Mark, described Mr Upton as a "retread" whose tenure could become a government formation issue after the election.

"There is no way we will accept this appointment standing when in government," Mr Mark says. Wright's 10-year tenure expires in October, weeks after the Sept. 16 election, after which coalition talks are inevitable and, on current polling, will inevitably involve NZ First as a government support partner.

In a statement from Paris, where has been based since leaving Parliament in 2001 after 19 years, Mr Upton said he was "acutely conscious that the office requires a scrupulously independent treatment of environmental issues and must be able to command the confidence of the House and the wider public".

"Politicians confront difficult choices and trade-offs. While it is not the job of the Commissioner to campaign for particular policy options, he or she can definitely assist the decision-making and legislative process by ensuring that it is well-informed."

The commissioner is an Officer of Parliament, meaning they report to no minister and have an independent watchdog role.

Mr Wright's tenure has seen a string of reports on a wide variety of topics, including climate change, land use, agricultural intensification, the use of 1080 to restore native bird populations and the safety of fracking that have established a track record of independence and impartiality.

Mr Mark said that could not be expected from Mr Upton, whom he disparaged as "the Nick Smith of his day", mocking his decision to live in France and status as "a Rhodes Scholar with degrees in English literature, music, law and a masters in political philosophy" who had once been president of the Young Nationals organisation.

"This role should remain politically independent, but that has been ignored by the government and the Labour and Green Parties," said Mr Mark.

Meanwhile, ACT leader David Seymour criticised all other political parties for supporting NZ First leader Winston Peter's election to Parliament's intelligence committee, where sensitive information of national significance is shared with Opposition parties.

Mr Peters was "not collegial enough to handle the sensitivities of this committee" and "lacks the diligence for this role," Seymour in a statement, quoting Simon Upton saying: "There was something genuinely sad about watching him arrive at Cabinet meetings with his papers unread, still tightly secured by their green ribbon."


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