January 2022 Member Spotlight

Dr Marie Doole

AELERT MEMBER SPOTLIGHT

With Dr Marie Doole Principal Advisor, Compliance, Waste Operations, Ministry for the Environment Kaiarataki Aporei, Tūtohu, Ngā Whakahaere Ā-Para, Manatū Mō Te Taiao  

For our first Member Spotlight Blog, we were pleased to be joined by Dr Marie Doole for a video chat about her rich career in environmental regulation and her experience in helping to build the profile of compliance at the Ministry.

Can you tell us about your current role and the work you do every day?

I am the Principal Advisor, Compliance in the Waste Operations team, a small team in Aotearoa New Zealand’s Ministry for the Environment. Our team implements the Waste Minimisation Act 2008 (WMA) - we undertake part of the compliance, monitoring and enforcement role. The WMA is concerned with supporting waste minimisation and managing our national waste disposal levy. In addition, we oversee the way our Territorial Authorities (or local councils) spend their share of that waste levy. Regulated product stewardship is also on the horizon and a range of other interventions are proposed beyond the existing ban on plastic bags.

I am seconded over to Resource Management Reform for a portion of my time. The Resource Management Act (RMA) is Aotearoa New Zealand’s framework of environmental legislation. It’s undergoing quite a significant reform programme, so I am helping by bringing about a more modern compliance regime.  

My day to day role is a strategic one to support the operations team. So, I spend time interpreting regulations, supporting policy and practice, doing performance monitoring and liaising across the division on policy initiatives relevant to compliance in the resource efficiency or waste context.  

Have you always been passionate about protecting the environment?

I am a kiwi, and as a kid I spent 10 years in Australia living on a boat, travelling around. I also spent a lot of time in the bush. I guess I’ve always been outside in nature, which gives you a certain kind of philosophy. We’re temporary stewards of the land, nothing more, so it’s our job to hand it on in a good or even better condition. My ethos is that “we’re only passing through”, so that’s driven me in everything I’ve done. It’s about how do we get people to recognise that it’s not about ownership and it’s not about control. It’s about protection and stewardship.  

Can you tell us about the journey you’ve been on to get you to where you are today in your career?

I have a very mixed bag of experience. The common theme has been environment and compliance. I went to university and studied Biological Sciences and Environmental Management. I got my first job as a Compliance Monitoring Officer at a City Council. It probably wasn’t a route I ever thought I would take, but as soon as I was there, I just connected with the work so strongly. It’s one of those few roles where you get to see the good, the bad and the ugly every day, and it gives you an intense appreciation for how difficult it is for regulation to change behaviour. I’m forever grateful for cutting my teeth in that way.

After a few years on the tools, I went into the Strategy and Policy division at the council. I spent time working on urban tree protection and other planning processes and got to understand how these rules come about. I think that’s what I wanted to demystify with that shift – to understand how we landed with rules that don’t work, or perhaps rules that don’t address the harms that need to be addressed and so forth.  

After that, I decided to do a PhD. My PhD fused those two things - I looked at compliance rates of biodiversity offset requirements under the RMA. I did my PhD through the University of Waikato, under Professor Bruce Clarkson and Professor Barry Barton, who stand on their own merits nationally in ecology and law, respectively.  

Later on, I went to work for the Environmental Defence Society (EDS), which is one of New Zealand’s premier environmental NGOs. EDS is the thought leader in the environmental policy space in that sector. It conducts technical evidence-based research to support the public dialogue on key issues. I enjoyed my four years with them and produced a book and a range of reports.  It was an amazing opportunity to come out of a PhD and be able to write a book on something you’re genuinely passionate about. Thanks are extended to some fantastic co-authors as well.  

Afterwards, I went consulting for a few years around having my two girls – I have a three and a four-year-old.  

About 18 months ago, I heard that there was some great stuff happening at the Ministry for the Environment in compliance. Our manager Scott Priestley had joined us from New South Wales, having emigrated to New Zealand. He’s done an incredible overhaul of the Waste Operations team - essentially building a compliance function from scratch. I was lucky enough to join the team.  

Can you please talk about your experience working in a relatively small regulation team in an agency that predominantly focuses on policy? What are the opportunities and challenges there?

In 2008, when the WMA was passed, there was a good deal of optimism about who would comply, on what basis, and what kind of follow up was required. The Ministry was much smaller at that time. The compliance monitoring and enforcement role has only ever sat with the Ministry, so it’s not as though it’s been recently given, it’s always sat there. The local government also has an important part in the compliance role, and has implemented some really interesting initiatives like local level licensing schemes.  

The Ministry had recently placed an organisational emphasis on executing the operational role. The big change, which I’ve been able to be a part of, is the overhaul of our compliance function. I think that’s been interesting because it’s the Ministry’s only direct regulatory role. So now we have something like 12-14 full time employees (FTE) in the team, in an organisation of several hundred staff members. So, we’re a drop in the bucket in terms of the rest of the focus being mainly on policy development and to some extent, in a growing way, implementation.  

Our role has been about shifting attitudes within the organisation to understand that compliance or ‘regulation’ is a critical dependency of any policy. When Scott Priestley joined, he found a situation where compliance, its importance and complexities were not given the priority required. Scott’s experience in Australia, through the vegetation, water and mineral resource regulatory reforms, has helped with this shift over the last two years. People are gaining a real appreciation for the importance of compliance more generally in the agency, and I think there are a lot of spin-off benefits to other policy programmes from those changing attitudes.   Our team has been growing and has been relatively vocal - working to disperse our learnings through policy teams to try and build the profile of compliance more generally in the Ministry. We produced essentially everything from scratch, so brand-new strategy, brand-new prosecutions policy, brand-new enforcement decision-making process, all new operational procedures. It’s been quite a radical change. 

I think we’ve been lucky to have, first of all, a manager who knew what he was doing and who came from a frontline role, and then a director who had a healthy appreciation for implementation and compliance.   We’ve got a fantastic team. We’ve managed to attract some incredibly bright people with amazing backgrounds - really diverse perspectives across the usual inspection and audit disciplines you would expect. Add to that investigation, fraud, forensic accounting, governance and project management, which I think are always important in a compliance team. There’s a real strength in bringing in people from different backgrounds - particularly in the communications space. There are certain things as a frontline regulator that are universally true to you, but the average punter may have no idea what you’re on about. It takes a person to come from a different background to test your internal narrative.  

Can you please us about the WMA Regulatory Performance Monitoring Framework Inaugural Report you have recently worked on and your experience using the MRIT to help inform the report?

Prior to this report, we had nearly no public-facing comms about our compliance role. I imagine that was largely driven by the fact that there was not a lot of activity happening, so there was not much to report on. It seemed to be quite important that we capture the results of our activity, so that people could see real numbers of what we’re doing. Also, for transparency.  

On top of that, we have the Waste Disposal Levy Expansion that was about to get underway in the current financial year. The idea was to produce a report that covered the last financial year, and if we were to make that business as usual, we’d be able to demonstrate the impact that the levy expansion has over time. This would have quite significant policy value.  

We tried to think about what people cared about and wrote a monitoring framework. Then figured out all the areas of activity that were stood up and ready to go, the data that we could extract from what we had, what we could present to help people understand what we do. I don’t think it’s just us, but regulators generally struggle with notions of what success looks like.  

We were looking for an independent high-level framework that gave us a way of thinking about our role. And we looked at a few. There were some indications of how you might assess regulators in New Zealand, but we thought there was real merit in an Australasian model that was designed with a much wider range of entities in mind.  

Scott identified AELERT’s Modern Regulator Improvement Tool (MRIT) as the desirable way forward. What we liked about it was that it was clearly written by people who knew what regulators do. That’s the first thing. If you use some other framework that’s more policy-focused, sometimes it can seem like quite a vacuous analysis, but I think the MRIT framework gives a pretty good sense of what success looks like. I think the most striking thing about it is that if you don’t do well, it shows you very clearly what you can do to do better. I think that trajectory of maturity is helpful because it doesn’t just say to you, “well you scored low,” but it articulates quite clearly what the next level up entails.  

I think we were conservative with our assessment; we didn’t want to overblow anything we’ve done. We’re acutely aware that we’re a nascent function and that we still don’t even have all our auditing programs stood up. It’s something we can do every year to provide a sense to the team, the wider organisation, and the public of where we’re at. And of course, with any data, the value of it increases exponentially over time. So, the MRIT gave us that independent framing that was pragmatic and clearly written. We all did the exercise, and all came within cooee of each other in terms of the assessment.  

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

When I was at the Environmental Defence Society, I wrote a report called Last Line of Defence. Compliance monitoring and enforcement of New Zealand’s environmental law. It was a review of the environmental enforcement agencies in New Zealand. It was a pretty tough project, but probably one of the most satisfying projects. I’d done it after my PhD, so I knew what tough projects were! I think that it gave prominence to an issue that people didn’t talk about – compliance.

I had this wonderful opportunity with an NGO that just trusted me to choose a topic. With one or two notable exceptions, there was incredible engagement from central and local government regulators, and I managed to produce a key issues paper on environmental enforcement in New Zealand. So, I’d say the Last Line of Defence was my career highlight.

 

Comment archive

Jos Caughley

372 days ago

Great article on a wonderful person who totally believes in her subject.

Jos Fryer

361 days ago

*Most Valuable Player Award*

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