10am EMBARGOED AGAINST DELIVERY
Monday 7 August 2000
OPENING STATEMENT TO WELLINGTON SCOPING MEETINGS
Delivered by Sir Thomas Eichelbaum
1. Tena Koutou, good morning, welcome to the opening of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification.
2. As Chair, it is my pleasure to introduce the Commissioners: Dr Jacqueline Allan, Dr Jean Fleming, and Bishop Richard
Randerson. Further information about us is available in printed form here today and on the Commission website, so I will
say no more than that between us we bring to this task experience in medicine, ethics, science, law, geography and
The Commission’s brief
3. Our terms of reference are set out in the Warrant which you will also find in the Information Pack. Of necessity it
is a lengthy legal document and we do not propose to take up time by reading it aloud. I will however record the two
matters which we are required to look into and report upon:
3.1 The strategic options available to enable New Zealand to address, now and in the future, genetic modification,
genetically modified organisms, and products;
3.2 Any changes considered desirable to the current legislative, regulatory, policy, or institutional arrangements for
addressing, in New Zealand, genetic modification, genetically modified organisms, and products.
The Warrant defines the expressions genetic modification, genetically modified organisms, and product.
4. The terms of reference set out 14 headings under which we may make inquiries and receive representations. As you
would expect they direct attention to the whole field of public interest in the subject matter; advantages and
disadvantages, benefits and risks, cultural and ethical considerations, legal obligations, here and internationally,
responsibilities arising under the Treaty of Waitangi, and economic considerations.
5. There are many other aspects, but we will have said enough to indicate the scale and importance of the task, and the
significance of the Inquiry. Significance to the community, significance on an international scale, because there is
world-wide interest in the subject and the eyes of the world will be watching to see how New Zealand tackles the issues
arising, as we are the first country, so far as we know, to set up an Inquiry of this kind.
6. The ultimate decisions of course will not be made by the Commission, it will be for Government to say what
course New Zealand will follow; but this Inquiry is your opportunity, the public’s opportunity, to make your views
known, and to debate the issues.
7. Whatever decisions are made ultimately, they may well be irreversible. It may be the only chance for New Zealand
to tackle the issues in a comprehensive way, or at least the only one for a long time. So the opportunity must not be
squandered. It would be sad indeed, if not disastrous, if time were taken up in petty squabbling, emotive disputes, or
points scoring; or if the Inquiry was used as a platform for political purposes.
8. Let us make this clear: we are not the Government. We are not the Crown. We are not here to sell any product or
point of view. We are the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification, not for Genetic Modification. We have been appointed
as an independent body to look into and report on the issues, and we propose to preserve our independence. Except where
a sufficient case for confidentiality is made, we will not receive evidence in private.
9. The Warrant requires that we consult with the people of New Zealand in a way that allows them to express their views
clearly. Some already have strongly held opinions. We expect there will be firm, forthright submissions. Some people
feel passionate about the issues. We hope to have a rational, civilised, focussed debate. We would like to think this
can be achieved notwithstanding the existence of strong or passionate viewpoints. There will be no point in people
shouting at one another, or at the Commission. Many have not yet committed themselves to any stance. They are entitled
to the opportunity to do so.
Our work to date
10. Until recently the Commission has not been seen in public. But we have been busy. We have had to set up our office,
engage staff and arrange our communications. To provide ourselves with a general background we commissioned a set of
papers, which in appropriate cases have been peer reviewed, and will soon be available on our website. We have worked up
the outline of a programme that will see our task through until 1 June 2001, when we are due to present what will
necessarily be a long and detailed report.
Our hearing and consultation programme
11. A Commission of Inquiry is quite different from a Court of Law. Nobody is on trial. Subject to the basic
requirements set out in the Commissions of Inquiry Act, and the directions given in the Warrant, we are entitled to fix
our own procedure, and to gather our information and conduct our investigations in the way we think is most suitable. In
carrying out our mandate to consult the public of New Zealand we wish to be as open as possible, and as inclusive as we
can, giving everyone who wishes to present their views to us a fair and reasonable opportunity, although not necessarily
by way of a personal appearance. Clearly there will be practical limitations; everything we would like to do, or people
would wish us to carry out, will need to be accommodated within the limits of our resources, both of time and in
12. Our general rule will be that our processes will be open. Our hearings will be in public. Written submissions
will be available on our website. There may be particular cases where persons seek confidentiality, such as in relation
to new inventions. If we consider such a ground has been properly established, those submissions will not be published
on the website, and we may hear a person privately, or in a closed sitting, where the record is not made available
publicly. Such instances, we stress, will be exceptional.
13. These Scoping Meetings will give an indication of how the Commission will proceed. With the help of the interested
people and the general public we wish to address the subjects we have been set by the terms of reference. We have
divided them into blocks, and with your help, will subdivide them further this week. We will proceed to divide our
hearing time in a similar way, and devote a substantial period of time to each block of subjects. Following these
Scoping Meetings, after any necessary refinement of the issues we will publish a timetable setting out the division of
the subject matter and the dates when we will deal with each.
14. We will request people to address the subject matter, subdivided in the manner we have just indicated. In a trial in
Court, one party presents a case and another presents an opposing case. We will not be proceeding in that way. This, we
repeat, is not a Court. Of course there will be a range of conflicting viewpoints, and where that is so we expect to
hear from all sides.
15. We will also announce the process for filing submissions, and the date by which they will be required.
16. Under Section 4A(1) of the Commissions of Inquiry Act, any person, which term of course includes organisations, who
satisfies the Commission that such person “has an interest in the Inquiry apart from any interest in common with the
public” shall be entitled to appear and be heard at the Inquiry. As stated in our Public Notice, we will hear
applications under this provision on Thursday, 10 August in the Wellington District Court, starting at 9.30 a.m.
17. Those not granted “interested person” status under Section 4A(1) will still be entitled to file submissions with the
Commission in written form (preferably in electronic format, but typed or handwritten ones will be accepted). Any
further participation by such persons is a matter for the discretion of the Commission. We will let them know whether we
would like a personal appearance as well, having regard in particular to the help the Commission believes it could
receive by hearing that person or body. Such an appearance may involve cross-examination. The Commission has the power
to summons witnesses.
18. Since there has been comment about this, we stress that the distinction between so called “interested persons” and
the general public is not one the Commission has established. The same law applies to all Commissions of Inquiry and we
are bound by it. We assure the public that their voice will be heard. “Interested person” may give the wrong impression,
we know all of
you are really interested, but those happen to be the words of the Act of
19. All oral evidence given at our formal hearings in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch will be recorded word for
word, and the transcript will be placed on our website. Oral evidence will be given on oath or affirmation.
20. Where the Commission considers it appropriate there will be cross-examination of oral evidence. However, the
Commission will reserve the right to control the scope and extent of cross-examination, and to avoid repetition.
21. No doubt many people will wish to place written submissions before the Commission. We should like to say now that we
will be looking for quality in the submissions, rather than quantity. Repeat submissions, based on a common template,
will be identifiable readily enough. The work of the Commission will not be helped by any who try to flood our website
in that way. Should that occur, we will not hesitate to make it known publicly.
22. The procedure we are proposing to follow, of dividing the subject matter, means that some persons or organisations
will wish to appear and make several separate submissions. In the case of those from outside Wellington, it may not suit
them to come before us more than once. In appropriate cases, for example where our procedure leads to difficulty or
hardship, we will try to accommodate those persons.
23. We will have some hearings in Auckland and Christchurch. We will also arrange less formal public meetings and
consultations in a number of other places.
Consultation with Maori
24. The Warrant directs that the Commission is to consult and engage with Maori in a manner that specifically provides
for their needs. Our first public meeting was a hui at Rotorua hosted by Te Arawa, especially to obtain views on the
best process to achieve those ends.
25. For that purpose the Commission will meet with Maori at two national hui, one early in our programme, the other
towards the end. In between, we will encourage Maori to have a series of regional hui throughout the country, to which
Commission members may be invited. We understand the importance which Maori place on the issues arising, and wish to
have every reasonable opportunity to hear those views in an appropriate setting. We will be mindful of the Crown’s
responsibilities as a Treaty partner.
26. Of course Maori are entitled to participate in the public hearing programme in the same way as other members of the
27. Subject to any grants of confidentiality, written submissions presented in Te Reo Maori will be translated and
placed on the website in both languages.
28. Once all the evidence has been received, it is the Commission’s tentative view that those who obtain “interested
person” status should be given the opportunity of presenting a succinct closing submission. This would be by way of
final summation at the end of the public hearing process, and would not include any further evidence. Public hearings
(including any final summations) will conclude, at the latest, on 23 March 2001.
29. As noted, the Commission’s Report has to be presented no later than 1 June 2001. Our programme has been designed to
achieve that target. We can see good reasons why the Commission should be directed to work to an early reporting date.
Until the Commission has reported, and Government has made decisions, the future direction this country is to take
regarding genetic modification issues is uncertain. Many important decisions are on hold. Some personal careers will be
at a standstill. In the meantime, developments will continue to unfold rapidly around us, especially internationally.
Information gathered by us may become irrelevant or obsolete if left too long. Some issues will go by default, if New
Zealand does not reach timely decisions.
30. To achieve completion by due date, we will have to limit the time that can be allocated to any one topic, or to any
person or organisation. Although there must always be room for flexibility, we will need to adhere to a tight timetable.
With the co-operation of all involved, counsel, organisations and individuals, we believe we can achieve the task we
have been set. We look forward to a co-operative and productive relationship with you all.
For more information:
ROYAL COMMISSION on GENETIC MODIFICATION
Dalmuir House, 114 The Terrace, PO Box 3554, WELLINGTON
Phone: (04) 495 9151 Fax: (04) 495 9153