New Director charts clear course
Safe Seas Clean Seas Issue 39, March 2012
Stepping into the Director’s role vacated by Catherine Taylor last December, Keith says he is looking forward to the challenges and opportunities ahead – despite starting in the midst of MNZ’s response to the Rena grounding.
“From all I’ve seen, MNZ responded very well to the Rena grounding, with support from many other central and local government organisations, international counterparts, the local community and iwi. While there will always be things we can learn, practise and do more effectively next time around, that’s actually quite a good space to be in, because it means we are focused on continuing to build a quality response to these sorts of events.”
However, Keith says the work of the organisation is much broader than just the response to the grounding and its impacts. “So much of the focus has been on Rena that one of the key challenges for us as an organisation has been to keep that in perspective. It is a critical issue, but it’s only one part of what the organisation is about.”
With his career spanning 20 years and a range of regulatory roles in the public sector – most recently as head of the Real Estate Agents Authority – Keith says he was excited by the opportunity to work for MNZ. “As an organisation, MNZ has an incredibly diverse, interesting and signi cant role to play in an important sector, with a critical focus on safety, security and environmental protection. That focus couldn’t be more important when you look at what happened back in October off the coast of Tauranga.”
Coming into MNZ at a time when the organisation is dealing with a number of crucial issues, Keith says he has been impressed by the dedication and professionalism of staff. “What I see is an organisation with a very good mix of skills and experience, with people focused on doing the best job they can amid the pressures and tensions that most regulatory environments have.
“I also want to assure the critics that MNZ strongly values people with maritime skills and experience – as well as those with a range of other skills that are critical to running an effective regulatory agency.”
Keith says a key priority for MNZ will be to continue in the direction the Authority has already set, including implementing the MOSS and QOL projects, and ensuring that a fair and sustainable funding model is in place so that MNZ has the capability to fulfill its functions.
Another important focus will be on continuing to engage and build relationships with industry. “What is clear, when meeting with people inside and outside the organisation over the past few months, is that we certainly all have the same interests. Everybody wants safe, secure and clean seas,” he says.
“There is a lot of positive discussion within the organisation about focusing as much as possible on engaging with industry. This means quality information-based engagement to support people to do what they need to do. But, balanced against that, as an organisation we shouldn’t be afraid to take direct action where it’s warranted.”
While there are already many excellent relationships in place, others will present a greater challenge, Keith says. “What I have been observing is that there are some extremely positive relationships that are focused on joint problem-solving and improving things. But at the other end of the spectrum, there are less positive relationships, based on the use of our regulatory powers, where the challenges are different.
“I’m the first to acknowledge that there’s a lot of history between the organisation and the sector, and we can’t discount that, but it’s about having a professional focus. My view is that as a regulatory organisation, we should always approach things from our common interests and work through the positions we have respectively, in a constructive way.
“Ultimately, though, we are accountable and responsible for ensuring compliance with the law and various rules, and should not hesitate to take action when we need to.”
Keith says he is a strong supporter of working with the industry reference groups that MNZ already engages with. He is keen to maintain and build on those relationships, and values the support and constructive advice they provide.
“One of the ways in which MNZ plans to increase engagement with industry is through the use of sector reference groups. This was an initiative that proved successful in supporting the recent MNZ Value for Money and Funding reviews.
“MNZ also has critical relationships with international organisations such as the International Maritime Organization, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and other agencies, including those involved in oil spill response, which we will also be looking to build on.”
Alongside this, Keith says he is looking forward to attending various industry conferences and meetings over the next few months. “That kind of engagement is one of the highlights of having a job like this. While we aren’t always going to see eye to eye, it’s about listening to the sectors, understanding their perspectives and trying to make sure we can be as effective and constructive as possible in achieving the outcomes we need to.
“As a modern regulator, the focus should be – and is – on ensuring we effectively manage risks and solve problems, which requires us to have really good information on which to base intelligent decisions about when to intervene and when to take action to get the best results. That’s a key strategic focus for the organisation, and work is already being done on that.
“While as an organisation MNZ might be diverse and complex, I would like to see us working together more clearly to achieve our vision of MNZ being an ‘intelligent regulator’, which means picking the right things at the right time and being an organisation that contributes to the strength of the maritime industry.”