The Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor (PMCSA), Kaitohutohu Mātanga Pūtaiao Matua ki te Pirimia, has a broad role. The central focus is advising the Prime Minister about how science can inform good decision making in Aotearoa New Zealand.
- provides strategic advice across sectors, and does not seek to influence operational or funding matters within the science system;
- serves as an accessible conduit between the science community and government;
- provides advice on specific topics, to the Prime Minister or other Ministers;
- plays a role in raising the profile of science in Aotearoa New Zealand;
- assists in making science more accessible to the public; and
- builds relationships internationally with science advisors and international thought leaders.
The PMCSA is independent and not an employee of the Government. This enables the freedom to speak out on important issues.
The PMCSA commits to scrupulous management of conflicts, resigns from all board appointments and leadership roles, and does not apply for research funding in New Zealand during their term.
The OPMCSA has a small team that provides science-based evidence to the Prime Minister to inform the programme of government. The OPMCSA may also assist Cabinet Ministers with requests for science advice.
This can be provided in three different ways:
- In response to an informal, sometimes confidential, request – in person, directly to the PM and/or Ministers.
- In response to a request from the PM and/or Ministers – a formal letter containing a quick scan of the relevant literature on a topic of interest. The letter is a way to quickly provide advice and scope an issue for possible future comprehensive research.
- A full and comprehensive report. This will generally become publicly available and could be:
- Initiated by the PMCSA with agreement from the PM
- Initiated by the PM as part of the core work plan
- Commissioned as a separate project by a Minister
In addition, there are often ‘hot topics’ that emerge due to a rapidly changing research landscape and/or particular public interest. The office keeps a watching brief on these topics and produces information summaries for the public. These are normally uploaded to the website after prior distribution to the Prime Minister and relevant Ministers, on a no surprises basis.
Programme of work
We keep a watching brief across all areas of science, and update our immediate priorities periodically in consultation with the Prime Minister. We avoid projects that overlap with other providers of science advice – e.g. the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. Some major topics of interest are covered below.
A global public health emergency, pathogens are rapidly evolving resistance to antimicrobial drugs such as antibiotics.
We are currently scoping a project for discussion with the Prime Minister in 2021, titled ‘The threat of infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance in Aotearoa New Zealand’.
We are updating the 2014 report ‘Health effects of water fluoridation: A review of the scientific evidence‘ in a public-facing, accessible format. Check back soon.
In 2020, we produced a report titled ‘The future of commercial fishing in Aotearoa New Zealand’ at the request of the Prime Minister. Check back soon for the release of the report.
In 2019, we completed our first major report: Rethinking Plastics in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Regulation of genetic technologies
In 2019, the Royal Society Te Apārangi released a comprehensive report on gene editing. Juliet provided commentary on the report for the Prime Minister.
Read Juliet’s briefing to the PM (PDF, 1020KB)
Science advice in emergencies
In 2019, we provided advice after the Christchurch mosque shootings.
Read the Christchurch mosque briefing (PDF, 376KB)
We also supported the response to the 2019 Whakaari/White Island eruption and the COVID-19 response.
Equity, diversity and inclusion in science
This is a major focus for 2019–2021, addressed by a collection of intern projects – including two that will be Tairāwhiti-based. In 2019, we facilitated a series of hui focused on increasing Māori – and especially Māori rangatahi – participation in STEAM. This culminated in a special hui with Hon Dr Megan Woods, Minister of Research, Science and Innovation.
In 2019, we provided accessible information for the public at the request of the Prime Minister and Hon Kris Faafoi, Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media.
We provide informal advice on request, e.g. on targets in the 2019 Zero Carbon Bill.
Legalisation of cannabis
In 2020, we provided a public-facing summary of the evidence of harm reduction on legalisation of cannabis.
Adaptation to the zero carbon economy
Renewable energy has been a focus of several small intern projects aligned with the office.
Independent science advice to Standards NZ
We provide advice as required at the request of Hon Kris Faafoi, Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.
Juliet chaired the Data Ethics Advisory Group 2019–2020, supported by Stats NZ, and maintains an active interest in this area.
In 2019–2020, Juliet sat on the Sensitive Technologies Working Group, chaired by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and the Defence Technology Advisory Board. She maintains an active interest in this area.
The future of food
Food, especially protein, is an important area from both public health and climate change perspectives. This topic relates to several workstreams across government. While it is not currently prioritised in our Office workplan, we are mentoring an aligned fellow working in this area.