Scientist shoots back after Shane Jones labels him 'Dr Killjoy' in row over Wairarapa dam

A scientist has shot back at New Zealand First MP Shane Jones after the minister labelled him "Dr Killjoy" in a row over a proposed Wairarapa dam project.

Jones snapped at Victoria University of Wellington's Dr Mike Joy after he criticised the proposed infrastructure that would store water from nearby sources.

It follows an announcement on Wednesday that the $3 billion Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) - which Jones oversees as Regional Economic Development Minister - is putting more than $7 million towards the project.

Dr Joy, who lectures on ecology and environmental science, is concerned the development could drain natural waterways and create more water dependence.

It's also written in Labour's confidence and supply agreement with the Green Party that the Government will work towards improved water quality, while winding down support for irrigation.

Jones said the Government is committed to tackling environmental degradation and that this is simply a "more practical approach with water storage".

He told Newshub: "I don't know Mike Joy, but he strikes me as the sort of scientist that every statement he gives he pretends he's on the casting couch... In my view, he's not a genuine scientist - he is a green partisan.

"His approach to regional economic sustainability is Dr Killjoy... As far as I'm concerned, he has no mandate, he has no authority to continue stigmatising or demonising the rights of his fellow New Zealanders."

Dr Joy shot back, telling Newshub: "Someone said that when 'the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell'. Shane Jones is clearly pounding the table and yelling like hell."

Dr Mike Joy.
Dr Mike Joy. Photo credit: Massey University

The scientist, who has a PhD in Ecology, said he's "not interested in these sorts of personal attacks" but said it's a "shame" someone with "as much intelligence and wit as Shane feels the need to go there".

He added, "Shane's response does have the great value of signalling to other New Zealanders that he has no worthwhile rational arguments in favour of the Wairarapa dam."

The infrastructure - being set up by Wairarapa Water to "provide a resilient freshwater supply for the area" - will be able to hold 18 million cubic metres of water and have the capacity to irrigate 10,000 hectares.

Regional Economic Development Under-Secretary Fletcher Tabuteau told Newshub it's a response to "urban growth and the need to get into a smart and sustainable space, while unlocking economic growth".

Jones also hit out at Greenpeace over its concerns about the infrastructure's potential impact on climate change, and criticism that the Government is continuing to support irrigation despite a promise not to.

"Greenpeace, from time to time, in my view put out messages that are relevant to their funders and not to the commercial base that underlies the lives of ordinary Kiwis," Jones told Newshub. "There's a balance to be struck."

New Zealand First MP and Cabinet minister Shane Jones.
New Zealand First MP and Cabinet minister Shane Jones. Photo credit: Getty

Gen Toop, Greenpeace New Zealand agriculture campaigner, told Newshub Shane Jones and the Government "can try and rebrand irrigation schemes to water storage as much as they like, but it doesn't change the facts".

She said irrigation means "more dairy intensification in the middle of a climate emergency and a national freshwater crisis - and this is not a New Zealand anyone wants".

Jones said it's "almost as if we've written out human wellbeing from these debates pertaining to climate and to biodiversity".

He said as the "regional economic champion" he's going to "put people at the top of the hierarchy".

PGF decisions between $1 and $10 million are made by a delegated group of four ministers, and there were no Green Party ministers in the group making this decision.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage, a Green MP, said any such scheme needs consent under the Resource Management Act (RMA).

Sage told Newshub she thinks there should be a "public process to ensure a comprehensive assessment of environmental impacts and effects of more irrigation" before any decision to proceed with the project. 

She said that will be a Greater Wellington Regional Council-led process.