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8 July 1997
A new Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is to be formed by merging the Ministry of Agriculture (MAF) and the Ministry of Forestry (MoF), Agriculture and Forestry Minister Lockwood Smith announced today. "The merger is aimed at tighter co-ordination of government services to the vitally important agriculture, forestry and horticulture sectors," Dr Smith said.
"Bringing the two ministries together will enable a more integrated policy and service delivery approach to these sectors, which are increasingly inter-related.
"MAF and MoF have similar functions and combining them will enhance the co-operation that already exists between them.
"In the biosecurity area, in particular, it provides the opportunity to share and focus resources for biosecurity risk management for agriculture and forestry," Dr Smith said.
"Pooling MAF and MoF's biosecurity expertise will strengthen the capabilities of the two existing organisations and their support for the Minister for Biosecurity's recently established Biosecurity Council."
The transition to the new ministry - due to be operational by March 1 next year - will be carefully managed to ensure no disruption to services currently provided by MAF and MoF.
The minister noted industry concern that a merger could mean that the government's focus on forestry would be less clear.
"But I can assure foresters that the move does not signal any weakening of the government's commitment to their sector. Forestry is far too important to the economy for it to take a back seat to agriculture," Dr Smith said.
Costs associated with the merger are expected to be more than offset by savings stemming from cost effectiveness gains. Some existing MAF and MoF staff positions may go when the ministries are merged but it is hoped as many current employees as possible will be able to remain with the new ministry in some capacity.
The State Services Commission will shortly advertise for a chief executive to head up the new ministry and a senior manager will be appointed to oversee the merger process.
Meanwhile, a viability assessment of MAF's service delivery arm, MAF Quality Management (MQM) is to be carried out.
This assessment follows an independent review which has recommended that many of the commercial services supplied by MQM would be better undertaken in a fully commercial environment. The assessment will look at whether new Crown entities or the private sector will take over responsibility for some of the commercial services.
Dr Smith said that MQM's nationally significant border quarantine service and certification services will remain 'core' government operations after the merger.
"But, depending on what the MQM viability assessment recommends, some commercial services may be transferred to a Crown company or State-Owned Enterprise operation and be opened to potential competition from the private sector.
"Such a move could result in cost savings for businesses using these commercial services."
"Contracts for the provision of MQM services by Crown entities, SOEs or the private sector would be tightly managed by the new ministry to ensure high-quality standards were maintained," Dr Smith said.
Decisions on further commercialisation of the MQM services concerned are expected at the end of the year, with establishment of any new commercial operations anticipated in the second half of 1998.
These services will be included as part of the new merged ministry until those decisions are made.
The MQM businesses concerned are:
Dr Smith stressed that meat inspection services would remain the government's responsibility until New Zealand's trading partners agreed to any proposed changes in this area.
"Longer term, while the government has to ensure meat inspection standards are met, it doesn't have to employ the inspector who actually looks at the carcass."
"Opening up inspection to the private sector could help drive down costs for meat companies as they would be able to directly manage the costs involved."
Stephen Ward, press secretary
04 471 9593 (work)