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Going Green - the new paradigm - Rod Donald

Going Green - the new paradigm

Rod Donald MP, Green Party Co-Leader

Speech Notes
The Economists Conferences
Park Royal Hotel
2.45pm Friday 11 August 2000

When I saw the draft programme for the Conference I was tempted to turn down the invitation because ACT was billed as “a radical alternative” and I always thought that was the Green Party’s role. We reject being pigeon holed on the traditional political continuum. We see ourselves as neither left nor right but out in front. Colin James couched it nicely this morning when he said we are “the new paradigm” I agree.

We believe New Zealanders don’t want to live in a greedy society where the marketplace rules. They want a government which cares for the people and the environment. One that fosters co-operation rather than competition, promotes equity rather than exploitation, quality of life rather than consumption.

Kiwis don’t want short-run profits to jeopardise our long-term prosperity. They warm to our challenge to growth, because they know growth is no good if it threatens the environment and increases inequality. They want to see co-operation replace competition in Parliament and in the community.
We have a great team in parliament and while I would have liked there to be more Green MPs I am very proud of the achievements of our five new members since they were elected. I believe our parliamentary team personifies the new paradigm. Jeanette has been at the forefront of the environmental movement for the last 30 years and was a recognised expert on energy, waste minimisation and transport before coming to parliament. My background is in not for profit/co-operative business and cause related marketing with a particular emphasis on fair trade. Ian Ewen-Street is a successful organic beef and sheep farmer with a background in outdoor education and geology.

Sue Bradford has had a very public profile as a campaigner for the rights of the unemployed and an advocate for worker owned enterprises. Nandor Tanczos is a high profile activist on genetic engineering, cannabis law reform and restorative justice issues as well as a retail business partner. Sue Kedgley brings six years experience as a Wellington City Councillor as well as years of campaigning on safe food issues and a background in public relations. Keith Locke contributes a lifetime of work on human rights, peace and justice issues as well as his business experience as a bookshop manager.

A talented team, and one with a fresh perspective which is very entrepreneurial and innovative while rooted in a commitment to social justice and environmental sustainability. We are driven by a belief that how we live and work as a global society is not only unjust but unsustainable. We see ourselves as the David’s in a battle with Goliaths, whether they be transnational corporations or governments. We are not driven by a desire to warm our bums on parliamentary leather but we are here to win because the stakes are too high to do otherwise.
Fortunately we are not alone. The election of seven Green MPs to the NZ parliament, placing us in a position of holding the balance of power, is part of a worldwide movement. Greens are now in numerous parliaments, particularly in Europe, and are part of coalitions or formal support relationships in countries of significant influence such as Germany, France, Belgium and Sweden, as well as of course New Zealand. We are an internationalist party and make the most of modern technology to build our links with the more than 100 Green Parties around the world.

It makes sense to do this because the big issues at the top of our agenda either do not recognise national boundaries or can only be solved by taking a global approach. The threats from climate change and the need for global action to tackle CO2 emissions is an obvious example but there are many other threats to the natural environment – the natural capital on which our very survival depends – that we must all face up to. Another example is the threat to sovereignty, self reliance and sustainability posed by globalisation, including proposed free trade zones.

Our national secretary was in America recently to speak at the inauguration of our Green presidential candidate, Ralph Nader. Our senior researcher has just returned form Europe where he has been discussing issues of common concern with the European Greens, who are now the third largest voting block in the European parliament, and I am heading to France at the invitation of the French Embassy in October to liaise with the French Greens.
Next April our Australian colleagues are hosting a global green conference at Parliament House in Canberra.

At an Australasian level we are working closer with our colleagues across the Tasman. My co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons is in Tasmania at the moment as guest speaker at the local Greens conference. She will also be working on strategies to achieve labelling of all genetically engineered food and a ban on the growing of genetically engineered crops and animals for consumption. Opposing the passage of nuclear waste ships through the Tasman sea is another joint programme we have with the Australian Greens.

Though tortuous at the time, our election victory was the easy part. The challenge ahead is at least as great as the one we faced this time last year. Then we had nothing to lose and everything to gain, the media and pundits had written us off as “political compost” – only we knew that good compost grows the best greens! Now we have to prove ourselves.

Labour and the Alliance clearly didn’t want us in parliament but they are getting used to us and the role that we play. So too are the opposition parties, the media, and the public. While we’ve made mistakes, and I’m sure we will continue to do so, I know there is enormous public goodwill and respect towards the independent role that we play. Even National’s cries that we are a lap-dog of the Government have become muted as we have opposed urgency where there is no good reason to support it, and have even voted for National & Act bills and amendments which had merit.

Our relationship with the two Government parties is fascinating to say the least. Tentative before Christmas, it is developing into a constructive relationship by and large. The parameters are defined by a protocol between the Government and the Green caucus which was agreed to in concept before Christmas, and even enshrined in the Speech from the Throne, but is yet to be finalised and signed off. Essentially in return for our support on confidence and supply the Government has agreed to co-operate and consult with us.

Finalising the details of how that should happen has been frustratingly slow. I would like to make it clear that we have been very accommodating throughout the negotiation. More importantly, we have worked hard to enact the spirit of protocol in our day-to-day dealings with the Government. I don’t believe our goodwill has always been reciprocated but most Ministers are learning the value of consulting with us at an early stage on each initiative. At leadership level we have a very good relationship with Labour and would like to build a better one with the Alliance. On a number of key policy areas the Greens are closer to the Alliance than the Alliance is to Labour. Co-operating in common cause could gain us more leverage with the senior Government partner.

I believe it is in the best interests of Labour, the Alliance and the Greens to build relationships which are co-operative and based on trust, while recognising that we are also competitors for public support. Under MMP it is highly unlikely that any one party will win a majority of the votes and therefore a majority of the seats. Therefore Labour (and National) need to ensure the survival of parties they can rely on in order to govern. That means allowing the smaller parties they depend on to be able to claim some success for government achievements, while also allowing those parties to stand apart where there are significant policy differences.

We are in the very fortunate position of not having submerged ourselves into the Government. I would like to make it clear my belief that our current role is a transitional one. I look forward to the Green Party playing a formal role in a future Coalition Government, where we will have MPs at the Cabinet table, advocating our vision of a just sustainable world and implementing our programmes in their portfolios.

We have this parliamentary term to find our feet and gain the experience to take on that responsibility. I certainly want our team to have the opportunity to get our hands on the ball rather than simply offering advice from the sideline.

While our opportunities to contribute to the nation’s direction are infinitely larger than they were when National was in government, our influence over the ship of state is relatively small but growing. That does not to take away from our successes and there have been many worthy of note. I would like to highlight the most significant ones. Jeanette Fitzsimons’ Energy Efficiency and Conservation Bill – the first Green Act of this parliament. Its tortuous passage and eventual enactment is a tribute to Jeanette’s determined negotiating skills, perseverance under pressure and commitment to the issue.

I hope I can achieve an equally positive outcome with my bill on the STV voting system for local bodies which passed its first reading 81 votes to 39 a few weeks ago. STV is to local elections what MMP has been to parliamentary elections. STV ensures fairer representation for all significant groups whether ethnic, geographic or philosophic. I am confident the number of Greens on local bodies, which currently stands at around 30, will increase once STV is introduced.

The budget package we negotiated with the Government has been a real highlight. The $15m package of 11 measures is modest in monetary terms but it takes the first steps towards achieving a number of our goals. While the “big ticket” items will make a real difference in the short term, for example $4m to help low income New Zealanders quit smoking, $3m for energy efficiency and conservation, $2.75m for bio security and $2.5m for conservation awareness programmes, it is actually the smaller projects which will set us on the path to a sustainable future. In particular we have negotiated for: pilot work to be done on alternative national accounts and business environmental reporting, the development of a domestic organic certification scheme, scoping work on a pesticide reduction programme, an advisory committee on complimentary and alternative health therapies.
Despite our gains I still can’t help but feel that we are all captive on a super tanker heading for the rocks and only a radical change in direction will stop us from this rush to destruction.

The big issues of the planet remain undebated. The big challenges are not being tackled: the negative impacts of economic growth, the increasing inequality within and between countries, the growing power of corporations at the expense of democracy. The role of an elected Government is it to protect its people and enhance their wellbeing. We have no intention of allowing that responsibility to be handed to the market place ,where corporations rule and profits take precedence over equity and sustainability.

Governments have always understood the importance of national identity. New Zealand has historically expressed it through our celebration of sporting success. This Government is trying to foster that same sense of nationhood through arts and culture. While that is laudable it is equally symbolic rather than substantial. I want us to celebrate the people who work in factories and on farms as much as our sporting heroes. I want us to recognise the contribution skilled manual workers have made and could make to our economy and our society if only they were given half the chance. I want the Government to put as many resources into a “Buy New Zealand Made” campaign as it puts into its “Uniquely New Zealand” arts package, or its “100% Pure New Zealand” export and tourism promotion programmes.

The Green Party is serious about getting New Zealanders working again. We believe jobs for the future will come from valuing different things – looking after people better, and looking after the environment better. Taking this course is an act of political leadership, not just a business development strategy.

The new Government continues to be dazzled by the globalisation agenda. Despite all the empirical evidence pointing to the failure of free-trade, Jim Sutton and even Helen Clark wing their way around the world trying to cut new trade and investment deals with countries with which we can’t compete fairly because of their poor employment conditions and environmental standards. When will they accept that after Seattle the WTO’s agenda is on the rocks. People’s movements, having given up on their governments to defend their rights, demonstrated the power of direct action and will increasing do so until governments come to their senses.

The free-trade zealots refuse to face up to the fact that the more we open our borders to imports, the larger our trade deficit grows, despite the best efforts of exporters to keep up with our insatiable demand for imports. New Zealand has now “achieved” six consecutive annual trade deficits, the latest eclipsing all previous records at $3.187B.

The consequences are enormous. The Industrial Supplies Office (ISO) of the Ministry of Economic Development have just updated their calculations which show that for every $1,000,000 of unnecessary imports we lose 15.7 jobs, pay out $159,000 dollars in welfare payments, lose $118,000 dollars of taxation revenue, and reduce spending power by over a quarter of a million dollars.

The export of New Zealanders jobs has been the single biggest “achievement” of the last government’s free-trade policies, based on the BERL calculations prepared for the ISO.
At least 60,000 jobs have disappeared in the last decade as a result of more than doubling consumer good imports from under $3B to almost $7B.

Yet government policies continue to allow importers of sweatshop goods to compete unfairly with New Zealand manufacturers, while exporters from developed countries like Australia continue to get far more government support than our domestic producers.

Every time we buy a packet of Arnotts biscuits we are providing jobs for workers in Australia instead of New Zealand. We are exploiting workers in China and other third-world countries and putting New Zealanders out of a job every time we buy imported clothing from shops such as Hallensteins. The same goes for discount importers such as The Warehouse.

Cheap imports are very tempting, especially if you are unemployed or on a low income, but the more cheap imports we buy the less chance those who need a real job will ever have of getting one that supports them and their family.

The so-called knowledge economy certainly won’t replace the jobs held by former clothing workers in towns such as Reefton or Levin. And we don’t think it’s OK for New Zealanders to live off the backs of third-world workers in sweat shops just so that we can have cheap goods. The true cost of their often forced labour has to be bought into the equation.

The free trade versus fair trade struggle gives us the opportunity to practice what we preach. At the same time that we join with the world-wide movement of environmentalists, unionists, human rights activists and farmers to challenge the growing power of global corporations, we can also be building the sustainable alternative at the grass roots.

And it’s grass roots action which distinguishes the Green Party from traditional political parties. We are much more than a parliamentary party, we are a social change movement. Community action is what we do best. We will continue to build our credibility by putting our policies into practice whether it’s buy local, waste reduction, public transport, or organic food or our antidote to globalisation – “buy local”.

Before the election we actively promoted a buy local campaign to encourage people in provincial towns around New Zealand to support their local businesses. It continues to appeal across the board because it is plain common sense. The message is getting through that buying from businesses which are locally owned and staffed and businesses which source their products and services locally is the best way to keep small towns alive and thriving. Now we are exerting pressure on the government to make a major commitment to local procurement.

New Zealand manufacturers need the government to put them on an even footing with their Australian counterparts in particular. For example, their government is investing over $700M from July this year in the clothing, textile and footwear industries and local procurement policies such as “Buy Queensland first” are boosting their whole manufacturing sector. Until the New Zealand government matches the commitment of Australia towards the business community, our businesses will continue to be at a significant disadvantage. This is reflected in the large trade deficit between our two countries.

We also support the goals which lie behind the government’s business development and regional assistance initiatives. It makes more sense to invest in the regions of New Zealand in a planned way to encourage employment growth than being forced into ad hoc infrastructure development in Auckland because of migration to the big city. It also makes sense to make good use of the under-utilised public, private and community infrastructure in these small towns.

The Green Party is not implacably opposed to foreign investment but we want there to be much more stringent conditions in place before new foreign investment is approved. Most so-called foreign investment has involved the transfer of existing assets and the loss of jobs. New investment would need to demonstrate the creation of new jobs, the introduction of improved technology and respect for the natural environment and society before it would be allowed.

We will be making a strong submission to the taxation review to restructure the tax system to make environmental protection good business sense. In essence we want to reduce tax on good things, such as enterprise and effort, and tax bad things, such as pollution, congestion, waste and resource depletion, more. It seems crazy that we tax human effort, via income and company tax, more heavily than natural resources when there is an abundance of people willing to work. By shifting some of the burden from enterprise to resources we would reduce unemployment and at the same time use resources more efficiently.

The first eco-tax on our agenda is a carbon tax on the carbon content of non-renewable fuels such as oil, coal and gas. It is a concrete step towards the “polluter-pays” principle and would challenge business to find more sustainable ways of succeeding. It would also raise revenue which the government would use for energy efficiency and solar heating programmes as well as reducing income tax on the lowest incomes. We would not, however, rely solely on the carbon tax to meet our greenhouse gas obligations.

Other consumption and resource taxes would encourage the production and purchase of durable, easily repaired, reusable and recyclable goods. A levy on hazardous substances in proportion to their toxicity and persistence would both encourage organic alternatives and fund the clean-up of contaminated sites. Crown resource rentals would be applied to the extraction of precious metals and a rental in return for extracting fish and shellfish from the “marine commons” would also be introduced.

Moving to true cost pricing of roads, particularly by shifting costs from ratepayers to users, will lead to increased use of public transport, walking and cycling and reduce congestion. Those of you from Auckland will know traffic is precisely what is strangling Auckland’s prosperity.
We are not promoting our framework for an eco-nation, as we call it, because we think it’s a nice idea. The problems facing this planet are vast and complex. They come down to six billion people reproducing at an exponential rate and stripping the earth of its biotic capacity to produce life. According to the best scientific advice, every living system on this planet is in decline. What’s more, despite the level of exploitation, resources are so poorly distributed that at least 20 percent of the earth’s people live below the poverty line.

One hundred years ago, even 50 years ago, it did not seem urgent that we understood the relationship between business and a healthy environment because natural resources seemed unlimited. But now we know we have decimated much of the world’s forests and fisheries, in many places we draw more water from the ground than is replaced by rainfall, we lose billions of tons of fertile topsoil into the oceans every year, and we inject toxic substances into our food chains where they are mixing into a suicide cocktail. Conventional economic growth only speeds up this degradation.

Some people say the Greens are idealists. I say to them that we are the realists and the other parties are the dreamers. Our vision is relevant to the new millennium. In fact we are the only party that is planning to be around for the next one!

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