Opinion: Is Simon Bridges asleep on the job?
Thursday 20 Mar 2014 9:20 a.m.
Simon Bridges (AAP)
Is Simon Bridges asleep on the job?
Does he spend his days as a Cabinet minister slumped at his desk and snoring away while he rakes in $268,000 courtesy of the taxpayer?
Because the only explanation for the Energy and Resources Minister having absolutely no idea that he signed off a Department of Conservation forest park for oil and gas exploration is that Bridges was in dreamland at the time. It simply does not make sense otherwise.
Bridges actually had to be told by our reporter Brook Sabin that he had opened up the 200,000 hectare Victoria Forest Park on the West Coast for exploration in last week's block offer.
Bridges had no idea he'd signed that off.
How can you sign off an entire DOC park and not realise?
It is certainly the biggest political brain fade ever in terms of size - bigger than a United Nations bank account, a secret trust or a phone call to help score a childhood friend into a spy job.
Bridges missed a 200,000 hectare DOC park!
It has been called the "Forgotten Forest", but the Bridges brain fade is worse than that because he didn't know about the forest to forget about it.
If I was John Key, from now on I would get someone like Gerry Brownlee to give Bridges a good shake every time he comes into Cabinet to make sure he's awake.
Brownlee needs to shake the hell out of Bridges and say, "Are you awake son? We're signing off important stuff here!"
Also Key should maybe suspend Bridges from signing stuff until it's figured out why he is signing important paperwork without reading it.
As I said on Twitter last night, Bridges should certainly for his own sake be kept away from clinical trials or Nigerian scamsters because it seems as if he will sign anything that's put in front of him!
All jokes aside, Bridges' behaviour here is concerning for a minister. I'm not taking a view on whether allowing oil and gas exploration on a DOC forest park is good or bad – there are pros and cons to that argument.
But Bridges should have known he was signing off a DOC park for due diligence. At the very least he should have known about it for pure political management.
A DOC forest park is a step below a DOC national park and the protected Schedule 4 land.
On DOC's website Victoria Forest Park is described as "pristine" and "untouched" - this was always going to be controversial.
Alarm bells should have rung when Bridges heard the words "DOC land" as officials got the pen ready - people marched in the streets over National's plans to mine national parks.
It beggars belief that officials did not tell Bridges he was opening up a park - this is a block offer, not a crude game of pin the tail on the donkey.
How he missed this is inexplicable.
He should have had an argument as to why the park was being put on the block ready to go - costs, benefits, risk levels et cetera.
What makes this worse is that Bridges had plenty of warning before Brook Sabin's interview yesterday - Brook started making inquiries with officials about what specific DOC land was on offer last week.
Officials tip off ministers as a matter of course on these types of inquiries, but Bridges still had no idea about the park. Incredible.
Bridges was already a moving target for the environmental lobby and this forgotten forest makes him a stationary one.
National just can't seem to get it right when it comes to mining and drilling. It has not learnt the lesson of the national park mining revolt that being upfront with the public is key to stopping public backlash.
Bridges was put into the Energy and Resources role with the thought he'd be a smoother interface with a public sceptical to mining and drilling.
But Bridges has been anything but smooth. His mentor Steven Joyce must be spewing.
Bridges' inexplicable and incredible oversight has already started a backlash. Bridges is becoming a liability to National and an asset to the environmental lobby.
And if Bridges wasn't fast asleep and dreaming when he signed off the park, he must properly explain what he was doing putting that signature of his on important papers without reading them.