Radio New Zealand reported yesterday that a Green Party Minister accused of ministerial interference is changing her story about meeting with the Environmental Protection Authority.
Radio NZ political reporter Benedict Collins reported Eugenie Sage now says she didn't meet with the EPA's chief executive Allan Freeth when she previously said she did, and doesn't think she discussed the EPA's controversial chief scientist with him like she said she had.
The scientist Jacqueline Rowarth resigned this year after Ms Sage, the associate Environment Minister, and others raised concerns about her conduct with Dr Freeth.
Collins reported that as well as forwarding a highly critical article about Dr Rowarth to the EPA, Ms Sage told Parliament 11 days ago she met with Dr Freeth and discussed her.
Ms Sage reportedly told Parliament: “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.”
Those comments led to accusations from National that Ms Sage had inappropriately interfered in staff matters at the EPA.
Radio NZ said this led to Dr Freeth returning to Parliament yesterday, to explain why he told MPs he'd had “absolutely no discussions” with Ms Sage on the matter.
Now, according to Radio NZ, Ms Sage said 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 Ministry for the Environment.”
Ms Sage reportedly 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.”
National's environment spokesman Scott Simpson said he did not buy the Minister's new position.
“It's very confusing for her (Sage), because for her not to be able to distinguish between the chief executive of the EPA, a middle aged male, versus the chief executive of the Ministry for the Environment, a female, is beyond belief.”
Benedict Collins reported that Ms Sage said she had learnt a valuable lesson.
Simpson told Radio NZ that Ms Sage's credibility had taken “more than a bit of a knock. Here is a minister who is deeply wounded by not being on top of the detail, clearly out of her depth and at best confused and at worst deceitful.”