National fails the environmental test | The Jackal

17 Nov 2012

National fails the environmental test

Following the release of the Green growth: opportunities for New Zealand report (PDF) the National party made a number of press releases that appeared to support the proposals put forward by Pure Advantage.

In fact after reading these articles the National party looked decidedly pro-environment and I was hopeful they might even implement some of those most worthwhile recommendations.

Unfortunately my hopes were soon dashed when the house of representatives sat on Thursday and questions were raised (PDF) specifically about the governments position on those recommendations.

Dr Russel Norman: Does he agree, therefore, that the challenge of achieving prosperity within these global resource limits, or the scarcity that he refers to, is what is leading to a boom in green industries such as renewable energy, and that this in turn creates the opportunity to grow a lot of jobs in New Zealand and we should embrace that?

Bill English: The fact is New Zealanders do embrace any viable green industry. The Greens carry on as if this is something that they thought of, but actually every day thousands of New Zealanders are acting as environmental managers, making decisions that trade off the prospect of income growth, or reduced costs, against environmental impacts. I would put in that category farmers, people who drive trucks who worry about their stock effluent, local councils making rules about putting underpasses under roads, and businesses that are trying to reduce their energy bill. This concept is not owned by the Greens or the Pure Advantage group. It is inherent in the New Zealand character, and the Greens should show more respect for that.

Dr Russel Norman: Does he agree that this is not a question about the Greens or Pure Advantage, rather it is a question about Government leadership, and does he agree with Pure Advantage when it says that there is an absence of a cohesive, long-term, green growth policy from his central government?

Bill English: No, and a couple of examples I would point to are the fact that New Zealand’s proportion of renewable energy is now higher than ever because we made the electricity market more competitive and stopped semi-subsidised programmes that were going ahead. The second is the example I used earlier, and that is water reform, which is probably the single most important environmental reform of the decade. Alongside that, I would actually put the regulation of the exclusive economic zone, which the Labour Government had a decade to do, did nothing, and in fact opposed it. It has been the responsibility of this Government to express what every New Zealander would like to see expressed, and that is their sense of stewardship for the oceans. In fact, I would say this Government has a much better record on this than either the Greens or Labour ever had.

Dr Russel Norman: Does he agree with Pure Advantage, which has identified our natural biodiversity as one of the main competitive advantages of our $20 billion, jobs-rich tourist industry, and why, therefore, is the Government cutting funding to the Department of Conservation, which is the prime protector of that biodiversity?

Bill English: Funding is not being cut to the Department of Conservation. It is getting pretty much the same revenue as it has had, and it is being treated in exactly the same way as most other public services. But, again, I point out to the member that although the Department of Conservation has a role in biodiversity protection, a whole lot of other New Zealanders do. In fact, the Department of Conservation is getting ahead of that member’s perception, because it has understood that in order to protect the most biodiversity possible, it needs to work with those thousands of New Zealanders who have the same values and want to participate, want to protect biodiversity, and have plenty of skills to do so. It, like the Greens, does not have a monopoly and a sort of moralistic superiority about green stuff. Every New Zealander is interested in it, and more of them would like you to show respect for it.

Dr Russel Norman: Does he accept that this is not an issue about anyone not having respect for what ordinary New Zealanders are doing, and that the issue is about Government leadership, and the problem with the Government leadership is that it has been promoting mining extraction and motorways, and those kinds of priorities for the Government are completely at odds with the green growth agenda?

Bill English: I think the Government, under the leadership of the Prime Minister, has shown a fine sense of balance in its leadership. Yes, we have advocated responsible mining. We are advocating roads of national significance. Alongside that, we are bringing in wide-ranging reform of the way we use water in New Zealand. We are regulating our exclusive economic zone, and any other number of environmental initiatives, including the home insulation scheme, to which we committed $300 million. Compare that with the record of the Labour-Green Government that preceded us, and its record is pathetic.

Dr Russel Norman: Does he accept the findings of the Pure Advantage report that shows that New Zealand’s environmental performance is declining and that we slip from first to 14th place in the recent Yale Environmental Performance Index, so why does his Government keep promoting policies that are not only leading to record high unemployment but also degrading the environment?

Bill English: As I said before, the Government has a very balanced approach to these issues. It is actually the Greens and Labour who promote policies that destroy jobs. We promote policies that create them. But, alongside that, we are promoting policies that underpin the sustainability of those jobs—for instance, the water reforms that we are talking about will underpin the sustainability of our whole primary production sector, and therefore the sustainability of the jobs in that sector. In that sense, the Government is taking a balanced approach, and, actually, many New Zealanders support that.

Dr Russel Norman: Given his previous commitment to the use of pricing around scarcity, firstly, why has the Government changed the emissions trading scheme to effectively completely undercut a price on carbon, and hence remove that price signal through the economy; and, secondly, will he commit to putting a price on the use of water, so that we are able to use price signals to drive efficiency in the commercial use of water in irrigation?

Bill English: Arrgh!

What this shows is that the media statements National made following the release of the Pure Advantage report were entirely false. The contradictions between them and what Bill English said in parliament couldn't be more apparent.

Either National acknowledges the fact that climate change is real and devises its policy accordingly or we will be faced with the consequences. These consequences aren't limited to adverse changes in the environment that could will have a detrimental impact on our primary productive industries, it includes such things as reduced tourism and less trade because New Zealands clean and green branding will be damaged.

In fact there are very few benefits to pursuing the economic policy that National is currently promoting compared to the advantages of a green growth agenda. For instance investment into clean industries creates more than twice as many jobs as investing into polluting industries. That makes the argument for increased oil and gas production through government investment to create jobs look rather pathetic... Especially considering the amount of times National has claimed that the government doesn't create jobs.

The government can create jobs through subsidies targeted at specific industries. National has chosen to subsidize the oil and gas industry through deregulation, tax write offs and paying for much of the exploration that has recently been conducted. Instead we should be following nearly every other country in the developed world and increasing the uptake of and investment into clean and green technologies.

Our future depends on the government promoting a brighter future through clean and green initiatives. Unfortunately National is entirely failing the test... What a bunch of idiots!