Salinger’s sacking not a ministerial matter

Jeanette Fitzsimons is on the wrong tack, trying to embroil Wayne Mapp in the fuss over Jim Salinger’s sacking.

In Parliament yesterday she asked Mapp, our Minister of Research, Science and Technology, if he stood by his statement in the Dominion Post last Saturday that the dismissal of internationally renowned scientist Dr Jim Salinger from his position at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research is “an employment dispute, which must be handled by the chief executive and the board”?

Mapp stuck to his guns: “Yes, I do.”

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is there ever a point where an employment issue justifies his intervention as Minister because of its potential effects on the quality of science and on New Zealand’s international reputation; if so, does he think that the dismissal of a Nobel Laureate on grounds that appear to the public to be quite flimsy might be such a point?

Hon Dr WAYNE MAPP: The chief executive of the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, Mr Morgan, and the chair of the board, Sue Suckling, came and saw me on the matter, in accordance with the no-surprises policy. I advised them that this was a matter for the chief executive officer and the board since it was an employment matter, and was not a matter for the Minister.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Will the Minister reconsider his position in the light of the considerable overseas consternation about the dismissal of a Nobel Laureate of Dr Salinger’s status and call in the board of the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research again and ask for an assurance that this action by its chief executive was justified, so that we do not, in the words of our Prime Minister, “continue to export scientists and import taxi drivers”?

Hon Dr WAYNE MAPP: I am aware of Dr Salinger’s work and reputation. However, as I have said previously, this is an employment matter and is a matter strictly for the board and the chief executive officer.

Labour’s Moana Mackey then sought a slice of the action, asking if Mapp would undertake to write to all Crown research institute chief executives this week,

assuring them that all publicly employed scientists are still entitled, and, indeed, encouraged, to make scientific information publicly available, including in circumstances where such information may contradict Government policy?

Mapp rightly pointed out there is an operating framework — prepared by the previous Government — that still is current. It states there must be good employment practices conducted by all of the Crown research institutes.

He assumes that all employees, and the boards – would operate under that practice.

What to do with Salinger – in other words – is not Mapp’s call. Nor should it be.

The Greens would be the first to squawk, if Ministers started firing scientists for being outspoken.

It’s hard to avoid some of the embarrassment rubbing off on to the Government, nevertheless.

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