Our role

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.

The PMCSA:

  • 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.

Advice

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.

Formal advice

This can be provided in three different ways:

  1. In response to an informal, sometimes confidential, request – in person, directly to the PM and/or Ministers.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

Informal Advice

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.

See our ‘hot topics’ page

View our information sheets for the public

Work plan

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.

 

Sustainability

In 2019 we completed our first major report: Rethinking Plastics in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Read the ‘Rethinking Plastics’ report

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

This is a developing focus in conjunction with Dr Gill Jolly and the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). Juliet also sits on the Hazard Risk Board.

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.

Equity, diversity and inclusion in science

This is a major focus for 2019 and 2020, addressed by a collection of intern projects – including two that are 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.

Read about the outcomes of the hui here

Read a foreword from Juliet and Tahu Kukutai on the relationship between science and mātauranga Māori

5G

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.

Read the 5G information sheet

Antimicrobial resistance

A global public health emergency, pathogens are rapidly evolving resistance to antimicrobial drugs such as antibiotics.

Read our 2019 briefing on antimicrobial resistance

Climate change

We provide informal advice on request, e.g. on targets in the 2019 Zero Carbon Bill.

Legalisation of cannabis

This is an active project in 2019–2020. We are producing a public-facing summary of the evidence of harm reduction on legalisation of cannabis.

Read more about our legalisation of cannabis project

Adaptation to the zero carbon economy

Renewable energy is a focus of several small intern projects aligned with the office.

Environmental measures and the wellbeing framework

We are currently scoping a project for discussion with the Prime Minister in 2020, currently titled The future of fishing: How might science and big data support our industries?

Artificial intelligence (AI)

AI technology has many opportunities and implications for Aotearoa New Zealand. We are currently scoping projects on equity and education for discussion with the Prime Minister in the second half of 2020.

See our AI topic page

The internet and wellbeing

We are scoping a possible project for discussion with the Prime Minister for late 2020, titled ‘How is pornography influencing relationships for young kiwis?

Independent science advice to Standards NZ

We provide advice as required at the request of Hon Kris Faafoi, Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

Read about our work on standards setting

Data ethics

Juliet chairs the Data Ethics Advisory Group, supported by Stats NZ.

Sensitive technologies

Juliet sits on the Sensitive Technologies Working Group, chaired by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and the Defence Technology Advisory Board.

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 but is not currently prioritised in our office.