Part 5: Transition from response

Ministry for Primary Industries: Preparing for and responding to biosecurity incursions.
Transition from response.

In this Part, we set out our findings about how the Ministry transitions out of responses and, where appropriate, how effective it is at transferring knowledge to response partners. We discuss:


Response partners think that the Ministry is good at sharing knowledge with them and that this sharing of knowledge improves biosecurity. It shares knowledge in several ways, including the use of web-based tools as knowledge portals but also provides direct support in person and by telephone.

In the examples we looked at, the Ministry has sometimes struggled to transition out of response in an organised and co-ordinated way. Poor communication can lead to abrupt transitions, with partners unaware and without sufficient preparation. However, when it plans carefully, the Ministry has shown that it is capable of transitioning seamlessly, as it did with didymo.

Transition out of response can sometimes lead to long-term management of the particular organism. Long-term management can bring its own problems, such as dealing with the complexity of a national pest management strategy, as with Psa, or obtaining long-term sustainable funding, as with the gum leaf skeletoniser.

Sharing knowledge with others

Response partners told us that the Ministry was good at transferring knowledge to others and that this is a good way of improving biosecurity. Figure 17 summarises how response partners viewed the Ministry's attempts to transfer knowledge to them.

Figure 17
Views about the Ministry's transfer of knowledge

Does the Ministry effectively transfer knowledge to response partners?
Gum leaf skeletoniser Most comments positive.
Didymo Most comments positive.
Southern saltmarsh mosquito Most comments positive.
Kauri dieback Views were mixed overall. Views were mixed overall.
Psa Views were mixed overall. Views were mixed overall.
Juvenile oyster mortality Insufficient definitive responses.
Up arrow. most comments positive Left arrow. Right arrow. views were mixed overall
Most comments negative. most comments negative circle. insufficient definitive responses

Note: These views are from response partners for each of the examples we reviewed. See paragraohs 1.23 and 1.26-1.28, and Figure 3.

The Ministry has found ways to assist knowledge transfer. Little was known about didymo before the outbreak. As part of long-term management, the Ministry created a website, This brought together reports, other documents, and other resources for response partners to access and share. also provides a discussion forum. Regular teleconferences help people to share knowledge and provide opportunities to ask questions. This ensures that those interested in combating didymo, who are widely geographically dispersed, have the latest information.

The Ministry is capable of promoting best practice in biosecurity. During the juvenile oyster mortality response, the Ministry advised the Cawthron Institute15 about best biosecurity practice and commented on the Cawthron Institute's development proposals The Cawthron Institute told us that the Ministry provided expert technical advice and constructive criticism and that it now has a positive ongoing relationship with the Ministry.

Transitioning out of response

Response partners consider that, in general, the Ministry has not managed the transition out of response well. The response policy considers standing down a response when various criteria are met. These criteria include:

  • response objectives have been met, such as when the pest or disease is eradicated;
  • there is no feasible response option;
  • the response no longer provides significant public benefit and/or the response costs outweigh the benefits; and
  • another identified group can manage the risks from the organism without further Ministry intervention.

Figure 18 summarises response partners' perceptions of how the Ministry supported response partners in transitioning from response.

Figure 18 Views about how well the Ministry moves out of the response phase

Does the Ministry support response partners into long-term management effectively and efficiently?
Gum leaf skeletoniser Views were mixed overall. Views were mixed overall.
Didymo Most comments positive.
Southern saltmarsh mosquito Insufficient definitive responses.
Kauri dieback Most comments negative.
Psa Most comments negative.
Juvenile oyster mortality Insufficient definitive responses.
Up arrow. most comments positive Left arrow. Right arrow. views were mixed overall
Most comments negative. most comments negative circle. insufficient definitive responses

Note: These views are from response partners for each of the examples we reviewed. See paragraphs 1.23 and 1.26-1.28, and Figure 3.

Communicating better with response partners would improve how the Ministry manages transitions. Response partners reported that, during a transition period, communications with the Ministry sometimes entered a "vacuum", which response partners found unacceptable.

We also found that the Ministry consistently failed to signal clearly that it was transitioning out of response and the implications of that. This often left response partners without sufficient time to prepare. Those working on the response to kauri dieback did not find out that the Ministry was transitioning from the response phase for weeks. Some response partners did not know why the transition took place. Not communicating can make work less effective and lead to others becoming less confident in the Ministry's response to an incursion.

During a transition, the abrupt loss of response staff and other resources can cause problems:

  • The kauri dieback response team quickly broke up and returned to other work, even though long-term management arrangements had not been set up. This meant that no handover was possible between response staff and long-term managers. Ministry response staff then disappeared, with no further contact with the response partners they had been working with. This reduced momentum and continuity and delayed work.
  • During the Psa response, Ministry staff and other support became available quickly. However, during the transition to long-term management, these resources were withdrawn too quickly, albeit at the request of industry. This led to a large squeeze on resources, which delayed decisions and contains lessons for the proposed move to greater industry involvement through the GIA.

The response to didymo has moved on successfully to long-term management. Critical to success was deciding not to close the response until the long-term management operation was up and running. This took more than a year. The partnership became the combined responsibility of the Ministry, the Department of Conservation, Fish and Game, regional councils, iwi, and industry. A defined structure was put in place that included a steering group, regional groups, and co-ordinating roles. The partnership's remit has now been expanded to include working to combat other freshwater pests. This shows that the Ministry has the processes and capability, when properly deployed, to successfully transition from response.

Sometimes, long-term management will require the preparation of a national pest management strategy (NPMS). This can be a complex, difficult, and long process because there are many steps, including public consultation. In the last 14 years, only three NPMSs have been prepared. An NPMS forms part of the objectives of Kiwifruit Vine Health (KVH), an independent organisation leading the kiwifruit industry response to the Psa incursion.16 KVH's experience shows that this is difficult and sometimes convoluted.

The Psa NPMS is still being prepared almost two years after the initial incursion. We consider that the NPMS may have been a significant barrier to those responsible for long-term management and could potentially deter others from working collaboratively. The Biosecurity Law Reform Act 2012 has simplified the process for preparing an NPMS, but it is too early to see any results from this.

The difficulty of getting funding for long-term management of pests or diseases could deter response partners from playing a role. Long-term management can depend on contestable funding (usually for projects), which is relatively short-term. Therefore, response partners might worry about whether there will be sustainable funding for these projects.

The response to gum leaf skeletoniser prompted work on using an Australian predator wasp as a control. There was early biosecurity funding of the wasp project and response partners reported that the Ministry's input was good. However, after transitioning from response, the wasp project relied on contestable funds (for example, the Sustainable Farming Fund) and response partners considered Ministry input into this phase was weak. In August 2004, research into the predator wasp began. The project has been successful so far, but it is still ongoing after eight years, which is not untypical with the nature of these projects. Ending Sustainable Farming Fund support part-way through the wasp project would have been disastrous.

The GIA should change this because it is designed to influence funding choices towards those matters that are of most concern to the industry involved. However, not all industries will take part in the GIA, and other non-industry response partners, such as iwi, will also not take part. Barriers like these could deter such groups from being part of these projects and may reduce their trust in the Government as a reliable partner.

15: The Cawthron Institute is an independent research centre, based in Nelson and Marlborough. It provides research, advice, and analytical services to support the seafood industry and sustainable management of the coast and freshwater and to protect New Zealand from pests and diseases. See the Cawthron Institute's website,

16: Kiwifruit Vine Health was set up after the Industry Advisory Council agreed to transition management of the Psa response from the Ministry and Zespri to a separate entity.

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