6 Mar 2019

Animal Evacuation NZ clashes with MPI over Nelson emergency response

6:26 pm on 6 March 2019

The co-founder of a charity that evacuates animals during disasters is fuming over what he says are threats from government officials not to fund his work.

A make-shift campsite for evacuated animals Richmond A&P showgrounds.

A make-shift campsite for evacuated animals at the Richmond A&P showgrounds. Photo: RNZ / Katie Scotcher

Animal Evacuation New Zealand co-founder Steve Glassey told a Select Committee that the Ministry of Primary Industries is shirking its responsibilities to evacuate animals in a disaster, and they don't like him speaking up about 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," he said.

Mr Glassey said despite the legal mandate that MPI has to coordinate animal emergency plans, there wasn't one approved, or in effect, at the time of the fires in the Nelson region last month.

"Our Official Information Act requests also revealed that MPI did not have funding for its own regional animal welfare emergency management coordination function, despite it being mandated under the National Civil Defence and Emergency Management Plan order."

Mr Glassey said the same thing happened during the Edgecumbe floods in 2017, which is what spurred him to set up his charity.

However, Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said Mr Glassey was always negative about the great work MPI did, and that he caused problems for other agencies during the Nelson fires.

"It was an emergency situation down there, a lot of people did some great work. They [Animal Evacuation New Zealand] were down there as well," he said.

"But unfortunately he'd gone behind the cordon lines, he had created some chaos and some challenges for the police and for MPI, it wasn't a very productive situation."

Evacuated horses at the Nelson A&P Showgrounds.

Evacuated horses at the Nelson A&P Showgrounds. Photo: RNZ / Maya Burry

Mr O'Connor denies Mr Glassey's claim that he sent any "veiled threats", saying the only conversation they had was at the Nelson A&P Showgrounds.

"We had a fairly open conversation, I was on the way out, he was talking to someone else and we had a conversation for about five minutes.

"And I said to him, it's not very productive to be constantly negative."

Mr O'Connor said he was not aware of what funding the charity received or what - if any - contracts it had with MPI.

Mr Glassey said he was currently trying to scrape back $5000 in reimbursement for sending people in to Nelson to help with the response, at the ministry's request.

But he said he found out this morning they're skipping around paying him back.

The ministry's director of animal health and welfare, Chris Rodwell, said in a statement that Animal Evacuation New Zealand does not receive funding from MPI, so there were no plans to cut funding.

Dr Rodwell said the Nelson Tasman CDEM Group was responsible for any reimbursement for costs incurred in the Nelson response, and it was up to individual charities to seek that money back.

He said as designated agency, MPI took the welfare of animals seriously.

"Animals must be taken care of in emergencies, and proper planning and coordination is essential to support this. Our work in MPI is geared to support this important aim."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs