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

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.

 

Food

Food waste

We are currently working on a project for discussion with the Prime Minister on food waste.

Read more about our food waste project here

Read the first report in the food waste series – ‘Food waste: A global and local problem‘ (July 2022)

The future of food

We are mentoring an aligned fellow working on cellular agriculture and future protein sources.

Antimicrobial resistance

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

In 2022, we released a report entitled ‘The threat of infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance in Aotearoa New Zealand’. (March 2022)

Read our ‘Rheumatic fever’ annex to the project (November 2021)

Read our 2019 briefing on antimicrobial resistance (x 2019)

 

Fluoride

In 2021, we provided a public-facing evidence summary of the health effects of water fluoridation. Our office examined new evidence published since the Royal Society Te Apārangi report in 2014.

Read ‘Fluoridation: An update on evidence’ here (June 2021)

 

Fisheries

In 2020-21, we produced a report titled ‘The future of commercial fishing in Aotearoa New Zealand’ at the request of the Prime Minister.

Read ‘The future of commercial fishing in Aotearoa New Zealand’ report (March 2021)

Fisheries Cabinet papers  – July 2022 – Proactively released

Read the government response to our report (August 2022)

Sustainability

Plastics

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

Read the ‘Rethinking Plastics’ report (December 2019)

Cover of the Rethinking Plastics report

Nitrates in drinking water

In 2022, we provided a public facing evidence summary of what we know, what we don’t know, and what we need to know about nitrates in drinking-water

Read “Nitrates in drinking-water” (July 2022)

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 (August 2019)

In 2022, Hon David Parker, Minister for the Environment, has asked for some official advice about some elements of New Zealand’s genetic modification regulation. Listen to Min Parker interview (June 2022)

See our webpage.

Science advice in emergencies

This is a developing focus in conjunction with Professor Tom Wilson 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 (May 2019)

We also supported the response to the 2019 Whakaari/White Island eruption and the COVID-19 response.

Equity, diversity and inclusion in science

This was a major focus for 2019–2021, addressed by a collection of intern projects – including two interns in partnership with Tairāwhiti iwi in 2021-2022.

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, then Minister of Research, Science and Innovation.

Read about the outcomes of the hui (February 2020)

Read a foreword from Juliet and Tahu Kukutai on the relationship between science and mātauranga Māori (December 2019

5G

In 2019, we provided accessible information for the public at the request of the Prime Minister and Hon Kris Faafoi, then Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media.

Read the 5G information sheet (November 2021)

Evidence to policy

In 2021, a fellowship project was completed on enhancing knowledge sharing between academics and policymakers

Read the  ‘Enhancing knowledge sharing between academics and policymakers in Aotearoa New Zealand’ (December 2021)

Our office is working with DPMC and Universities NZ to support improved knowledge sharing between researchers and policy makers.

In 2022, we have a Riddet Institute funded intern project that is developing templates to assist researchers to prepare evidence to policy briefings.

In 2022, we are supporting the National Science Challenges (NSCs) to produce evidence to policy briefings.

Open access

In 2021-2022,  an intern project was completed, with support from the Royal Society Te Apārangi, on establishing wider open access for research publication in New Zealand

Read ‘The Future is Open: Establishing Wider Open Access for Research Publications in Aotearoa New Zealand’ report (May 2022)

Climate change

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

In 2020, Juliet was appointed by Hon James Shaw, Minister for Climate Change, to the Climate Change Commission Nominating Committee.

Legalisation of cannabis

In 2020, we provided a public-facing summary of the evidence of harm reduction on legalisation of cannabis.

Read ‘Legalising cannabis: What does the evidence say?’ (July 2020)

Adaptation to the zero carbon economy

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

Artificial intelligence (AI)

AI technology has many opportunities and implications for Aotearoa New Zealand. This has been the topic of two intern projects.

See our AI topic page

Data ethics

Juliet chaired the Data Ethics Advisory Group 2019–2020, supported by Stats NZ, and maintains an active interest in this area.

Independent science advice to Standards NZ

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

Read about our work on standards setting

Sensitive technologies

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.

Last updated: 4 August 2022.