No rise from minister over 'crass' statue

12:15 pm on 4 September 2017

Protesters have delivered a huge statue of Environment Minister Nick Smith squatting over a glass of water to Canterbury's regional council.

Protesters have delivered a huge statue of Environment Minister Nick Smith squatting over a glass of water to Canterbury's regional council.

About eight protesters were needed to carry Sam Mahon's 5m high statue of Nick Smith to the council. Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

The larger-than-life likeness of Dr Smith, by Christchurch artist Sam Mahon, is intended to criticise the government's record on protecting Canterbury's drinking water from the effects of intensive dairy farming.

The 5m high statue depicts Dr Smith with his pants around his ankles, squatting over a glass of water.

It was placed outside the Canterbury Regional Council offices in Christchurch this morning in protest over what Mr Mahon said was that organisation's complicit behaviour in allowing a massive increase in the number of dairy cows in the region.

It has since been removed.

Dr Smith sacked the regional councillors in 2009 for a lack of progress in rolling out planning rules. The rules allowed for faster consenting of large-scale irrigation of the Canterbury Plains, as well as imposing stricter environmental limits in some areas.

The minister told Morning Report the statue was "a bit crass", but he was not really offended by it.

"I think there are smarter ways that people can express themselves without being offensive, but politics gives you a pretty thick skin so I'm not too bothered by it.

"I'm far more interested in focusing on doing the hard policy yards that will actually improve our freshwater quality."

He said Mr Mahon had written to him and he had agreed to meet him, and they had quite a cordial "cuppa".

"But quite clearly he comes from a different perspective and chooses to express himself in that way."

Mr Mahon said the protesters' intention was to raise awareness, and they were doing so after other efforts had failed.

"When Nick enacted the ECan Act he took our voice away to some extent," he told Morning Report.

"We'd tried for 15 years to get [supportive] councillors onto ECan and when we finally did - it was a big struggle, really hard work - he sacked the councillors.

"We used due process if you like and it failed in the end.

"So as far as being an artist or a writer what we do is we use our art as our voice."

In response to Mr Smith's comment that the statue was crass, he said the minister had lost his sense of humour.

Mr Mahon said he had previously made a statue of Mr Smith from cow manure, and the minister's response then was more clever.

"I said 'are you going to put a bid in' and he said 'oh, I don't buy crap art'."

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