Preparing for a public hearing
The HSNO Act provides the right for the pubic to be heard in regard to notified applications. The purpose of a public hearing is to enable submitters to present relevant information directly to the Decision-making Committee, by speaking to their submission.
According to Section 60 of the HSNO Act: "A hearing of any application need not be held unless--- (a) The Authority considers that a hearing is necessary; or (b) The applicant has made a written request to the Authority for a hearing; or (c) A person who has made a submission stated in that submission that he or she wishes to be heard and has not subsequently advised that he or she does not wish to be heard."
At a hearing anyone who has made a written submission can present their concerns to the Authority who may want to ask questions of them. It is expected that parties wishing to be heard have views supported by evidence or information to be presented which is relevant to the application. It is expected that the applicant and other stakeholders will treat this right to be heard with respect.
A hearing is a formal, semi-judicial process, and those wishing to ask questions of the applicant or submitters may be invited to speak by the Authority member chairing the particular hearing.
Typical order of events
- The Chair of the Decision-making Committee will welcome participants to the hearing, introduce the Committee and explain the process to be followed. The EPA project team will then be invited to introduce themselves.
- The applicant will be invited to present the application (see below)
- The applicant can call upon other witnesses to support the application (see below)
- EPA staff will present the Staff Assessment Report highlighting the main issues in the report
- Any external advisers might be asked to make a short presentation of the main issues arising from their specific reports (usually incorporated in to the Staff Assessment Report).
- Submitter(s) will be invited to presents submission(s) and any further witnesses can be called
- The applicant will be invited to responds to issues raised (see below)
- The hearing will be adjourned for consideration by the Authority.
Presenting evidence and information
Pre-circulated evidence is taken as read by all parties, and does not need to be read at the hearing. Parties are expected to highlight key parts of their evidence and answer any questions. Parties may refer to published material written by other people as part of their evidence as long as the source of this information is clearly identified. People are expected to be able to justify using this material, and to be questioned on their analysis of it. If any information is presented at a hearing that has not been earlier released to the EPA or the other parties, the Chairperson may adjourn the hearing to allow everyone to assess and respond to the new information. Any party can request adjournments of this kind. Written submissions should be confined to issues relevant to the application and not simply of a general nature. If a submitter wishes to be heard at a public hearing, they should indicate this in their written submission. In this case, the written submission should mention all the issues to be raised at the hearing by the submitter or any witnesses the submitter brings to the hearing. If one or more witnesses are to be brought to the hearing, the EPA should be advised of this in advance.
The Decision-making Committee may ask questions after evidence is presented and other parties might be invited, by the Chair, to question submitters or their witnesses.
Applications to the EPA for release of biological control agents from containment can be very complex, especially if the application deals with a number of organisms. Applicants and witnesses are advised to be very familiar with their own application. It may be some time since it was prepared and/or might have been prepared by someone other than the applicant. It is also advisable to be very familiar with the Staff Assessment Report and submissions, and the issues that have been highlighted. These are likely to form the basis of questions from the Authority members presiding at the hearing. If the opportunity arises, it can be useful for applicants and witnesses to attend another hearing before their own to familiarise themselves with the procedures, and the nature of the questioning.
When presenting the case, the applicant should be brief, but should cover the issues clearly. The presentation should be illustrated where this helps to clarify points being made. Make sure you confront any contentious issues rather than avoid them, because they will come up in questions. It is often better to have prepared for this in the presentation than be seen to have difficulty answering a tricky question. The following is suggested as a possible outline for the presentation:
- Outline the problem which led to the biological control programme, e.g. describe the target pest, the damage it is causing, economic losses or environmental threats, its actual and potential distribution in New Zealand, current control methods.
- Describe the proposed biological control agent(s), show slides of the different stages of the life cycle, and the way in which it attacks the target; good pictures of 'before and after' from other countries where the agent has been used, or from quarantine studies help demonstrate the potential of the biological control agent.
- Spend some time talking about the containment testing that was carried out, and provide a clear interpretation of the results.
- Briefly describe how, where and when the biological control agent(s) will be released, and outline any post-release monitoring that is intended both for target and non-target effects.
If the applicant is a producer group representative, then it is probably best if only the first bullet point above should be covered. The remainder should be covered by the researcher(s) who have been contracted to carry out the biological control programme development and the containment testing. It is sometimes best to have the appropriate researcher who carried out the various aspect of the study to present their work, as long as they are all well prepared and do not duplicate information. They can be brief and to the point. A rehearsal where the applicant and other witnesses all have a practice run for their presentations is very beneficial.
Dos and don'ts
- be very familiar with your application
- be very familiar with the EPA Staff Assessment Report
- be familiar with the evidence that your witnesses are going to present
- be brief and to the point in presenting the application; give an outline of the purpose of the application, the expected benefits of the biological control programme, the identified risks and your consideration of these. Concentrate on the matters that have been highlighted in the EPA Staff Assessment Report
- be familiar with points raised by submitters
- treat submitters with respect and dignity, and address their points in a scientific but clear manner
- speak for more than 20 minutes in presenting the application (unless specified in the agenda)
- allow your witnesses to speak for more than 15 minutes
- use scientific jargon excessively and try to blind your audience with complex scientific explanations; keep language as simple as possible.
- ridicule questioners who may appear 'naïve'; remember you know far more about all aspects of the biological control programme than anyone else in the room
- lose your cool under pressure
- try to answer a question if you really don't know the answer
- try to mix with the EPA Authority members and staff and their witnesses, experts etc. during breaks – the hearing is a formal, semi-judicial process
Applying for general release or release with controls
Releasing biological control agents