Apology for ‘office girls’ slur

A misogynistic comment draws an apology from a former Fish & Game national chairman. David Williams reports

Former Fish & Game chairman Lindsay Lyons has apologised for maligning female administrative staff.

In a Newsroom story last week, the former Bay of Plenty fishing guide said a staff collective letter raising “serious concerns” about chief executive Martin Taylor was “signed by office girls”. “Nothing against office girls, but they have no idea of the running of NZ Fish & Game Council, or the governance matters of the New Zealand council … They just don’t understand it.”

It’s the second such controversy for Fish & Game this year, after Southland regional councillor Ken Cochrane sparked national headlines in February with his sexist comment about “chick scientists” hijacking the debate over whitebait regulations.

Lyons’ comments prompted several complaints to chairman Paul Shortis, who replaced Lyons in controversial fashion in April.

In a letter to Fish & Game staff, seen by Newsroom, Shortis said the national council’s executive met via video on Wednesday afternoon and the comments fell well below the expected standard. “We recognise that Fish and Game’s greatest asset is its staff who carry out their duties to the very highest standard and should expect to be treated with respect at all times.

“Mr Lyons has received a strong letter of condemnation from NZC. He is extremely embarrassed by his comments and will write a letter of apology to all of you.”

Lyons’ three-paragraph apology, sent last Friday, said: “My comments were wrong, both in light of the language I used and the negative insinuations against Fish & Game’s administrative staff. I strongly believe that Fish & Game simply wouldn’t function without the amazing team of all staff around the country.”

Shortis tells Newsroom “quite a number” of people took exception to his comments. “There’s nothing much, really, to report,” he says. “It was unfortunate comment on his part which a few people took exception to.”

He adds: “An apology has been made and it’s basically all over.”

Lyons said via text message last night: “I have unreservedly apologised for my comments to the F&G office staff, the NZ Council and the Fish and Game staff. I have subsequently received very positive feedback.”

The fact the letters were sent to Newsroom so quickly is a sign, perhaps, of how the fall of Lyons, an ally of chief executive Taylor, has emboldened staff. Many believe the pair concocted a false sense of crisis to push Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage into launching an independent review, and are driving for centralisation of the organisation, which has a national body and 12 semi-autonomous regional councils.

Cochrane, the Southland regional councillor, was a member of a working group considering changes to whitebait fishery management. He told a 200-strong audience in Invercargill: "I sat there on day one and I thought ‘I’m listening to a whole bunch of chick scientists who, if you look at the view they were pitching, everybody in New Zealand should not shave their armpits . .. should whitebait in their jandals ... after they catch one patty for tea they should sit down, hold hands and sing Kumbaya’."

The sexist rant was slammed by Sage as derogatory and discriminatory, while Department of Conservation boss Lou Sanson labelled the comments appalling. His fellow councillors, at an emergency meeting, called for him to resign but he refused. His name still appears in the list of councillors on the Southland region’s website.

The situation sparked a national conversation about the organisation, which represents 150,000 hunters and anglers, but has only three female representatives on its 12 regional councils. The national council comprises exclusively men.

West Coast Fish & Game manager Dean Kelly told Fishing & Outdoors in March: “Unfortunately, the poor representativeness of female governors represents a larger issue of poor numbers of female anglers and hunters throughout the country.”

Last month, in formally announcing a review of Fish & Game, Sage said the laws governing the organisation were enacted 30 years ago and it was timely to ensure its governance and organisational arrangements were fit for purpose. One of the reviewers is former Justice Ministry secretary Belinda Clark.

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