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Green Vision and Action - Rod Donald Speech

Green Vision and Action

Speech notes in response to the Prime Minister’s statement
Rod Donald MP
Green Party Co-Leader
Tuesday 13 February 2001

The Greens are looking forward to this, the middle year of the parliamentary term. Last year was an extraordinary time for all of us, especially the five new MPs. I am very proud of every one of our MPs and all of our staff and key advisors for the stirling work they do. They were all thrown in at the deep end and not only made it to the surface but are all swimming strongly.

I was delighted at the end of last year when Sue Bradford was declared politician of the year by Radio New Zealand’s Gallery team and back bencher of the year by the Herald’s parliamentary reporters. Those honours are an acknowledgement of her hard work on accident compensation and employment relations legislation in particular and also her ability to adapt to the parliamentary environment. By successfully making the transition from protestor to effective politician Sue has not only proved the pundits wrong but confirmed, by her attendance at the World Economic Forum protest in Melbourne last year and the Nelson waterfront picket line in January, that she has not deserted her activist roots.

Her stand, and that of other Green MPs such as Keith Locke, who has campaigned assiduously on social justice, peace and democracy issues, most recently, on the waterfront in Nelson, and in support of the restoration of democracy in Fiji, reinforces that the Greens stand for more than the environment. Of course we are an environmental party but we also know that the environment will only be saved if there is social justice, peace and democracy.

I am pleased that we are successfully broadening the public perception of what it means to be Green as witnessed by our good standing in political opinion polls and the strong public participation in the Royal Commission on Genetic Engineering.

I welcome Jenny Shipley’s decision to elevate environmental issues on National’s agenda. It will be an opportunity for us to highlight the distinctions between new right clip-on environmentalism which leaves the free-market unchallenged and the holistic approach taken by the Greens to the challenges of global warming and resource depletion and the threats to bio-diversity and bio-security.

We agree that the Labour Alliance Government had a successful first year and we were pleased to contribute to that success by supporting the minority coalition on a number of key initiatives, including the restoration of income related rents, reversing the privatisation of Accident Compensation, and restoring some equity to employment relations. We would like to have gone further than the Government was prepared to go on employment relations by ensuring greater job security for the most vulnerable workers and formally recognising the right for working people to strike on significant environmental and human rights issues. However we are fully aware that we are operating in a democratic frame work where we have to convince the majority of the House of the merits of our arguments.

In that context we were pleased to cooperate with National, as well as the government, over the health legislation and believe the final outcome is a significant improvement over what was allowed to emerge from the Select Committee. We remain willing to work with all parties in the House again this year to both achieve the best possible outcomes for particular pieces of legislation and to contribute to restoring faith in the democratic process and our MMP electoral system in particular.

It was also a successful year for the Greens. We are pleased to see the end of native forest logging on the West Coast, the establishment of the Royal Commission on Genetic Engineering, the implementation of the precedent setting Green Party budget package and the passage of Jeanette Fitzsimons’ Energy Efficiency Bill. The introduction of three Green bills – on extending our nuclear free zone, on democratising the international treaty’s process and introducing a fairer local body system - and the initiation of four select committee enquiries - looking into organic farming, the human rights implications of NZ’s foreign relations policy, the impact of climate change and the review of the cannabis laws - have all contributed to advancing the Green agenda. We were extremely disappointed when the government voted down Sue Bradford’s Bill to restore the emergency unemployment benefit for students, despite this being Alliance policy and previously being championed by Social Services Minister Steve Maharey.

Our relationship with the government has been tested at times, not least by its determination to push through lopsided free trade agreements and its embrace of increased powers for the surveillance state. However the relationship is working and I would like to think it is getting better. Most Ministers recognise the value of consulting Greens early on their legislative and budgetary initiatives. We are certainly committed to improving what has been a good relationship with the Government but we intend to be bolder and more forthright in the years ahead.

It will be an exciting year for the Greens not only in parliament but at the international and local level as well. Locally, we are intending to mount a strong campaign in council, community and community board elections this year. On the world stage we will be represented in strength at the Global Greens Conference to be held in Canberra in April where legislators and activists from around the world will form a new internationale for the new century. Ministers, MPs and councillors from Green parties in many countries, will be debating the vital issues facing the planet, determined to develop sustainable solutions and to implement them in our communities and our nations.

We have much to learn from our from our European colleagues in particular. Greens are now represented in eight European parliaments and are coalition partners in five of those countries. Green Ministers from those governments played a key role in the recent Climate Change Conference in the Hague which my colleague Jeanette Fitzsimons also attended.

I am pleased to see the Prime Minister refer to Climate Change in her speech and acknowledge the negative effects of increasing fossil fuel consumption on our planet. What is not clear from the speech is what specific lead the Government is going to take. It’s time for action rather than words to reduce our green house gas emissions. As individuals we can make positive choices in our daily life such as cycling or using public transport rather than taking the car, and signing up to initiatives such as Trustpower’s new green energy scheme promoting windpower which Jeanette Fitzsimons launched yesterday. But the Government must also take the lead by ensuring that an energy efficiency strategy which is visionary bold and achievable is put in place, this year, as required under the Energy Efficiency Conservation Act and by implementing a carbon tax in this term.

The Green Party will certainly be making a submission to the tax review currently underway but we believe there is no practical impediment to seeing a carbon tax, and a complimentary reduction in income tax, within the next 12 months. Carbon taxes are actively being implemented in Europe and if New Zealand really does want to be a leader in the OECD, as the Prime Minister has said in her speech, then we must take the lead not just in transforming the economy but ensuring that any such transition puts New Zealand on an ecologically sustainable footing.

Perhaps I have interpreted the Prime Minister too narrowly when she talks about the New Zealand economy drifting steadily towards the bottom rungs of the OECD ladder but that is clearly a reference our gross domestic product per capita relative to the other member countries. GDP is only one measure of progress and a poor one at that. The OECD also rates countries on a range of social and environmental indicators and our credibility in these dimensions is not high either. Therefore any shared vision and road map to achieve the goals outlined by the Prime Minister today must incorporate a triple bottom line approach so that environmental and social criteria rate as highly as economic ones.

During the summer I re-read a book which first opened my eyes to Green politics. E.F. Schumachers “Small is Beautiful” asks some fundamental questions about the role of economics. Way back in 1973 Schumacher said that economic growth had become the abiding interest if not the obsession of all modern societies. “Anything that is found to be an impediment to economic growth is a shameful thing, and if people cling to it, they are thought of as either saboteurs or fools. Call a thing immoral or ugly, soul destroying or a degradation of man, a peril to the peace of the world or to the wellbeing of future generations; as long as you have not shown it to been uneconomic you have not really questioned its right to exist, grow and prosper”.

Schumacher goes on to question gross domestic product pointing out that economists are unwilling and generally unable to face the question of whether growth in GDP is to be taken as a good or bad thing. “The idea that there could be pathological growth, unhealthy growth, disruptive or destructive growth is to the economist a perverse idea which must not be able to surface.”

But it should not be a perverse idea to a government which has claimed to be concerned about sustainability. However that concern, as expressed so eloquently by the Prime Minister at the Redesigning Resources Conference last year, has not translated into this year’s vision statement. Helen Clark wants our country to be kinder, fairer, more prosperous, innovative, tolerant, progressive and advanced and we applaud her and her government for those visions and aspirations but ecological sustainability must surely underpin all those other goals?

There is nothing in today’s speech to suggest a government aware that our prosperity and very survival depends on healthy and respectful relationship with the rest of the living world.
There is nothing in the economic transformation section about sustainable development. Long before we start to top the OECD league tables we will need to ask whether these league tables really measure our quality of life or the sustainability of our production and consumption patterns.

Science alone will not be our salvation - we need a wisdom economy rather than just a knowledge economy. We support the emphasis on IT, but IT alone is not the answer. We are looking for a government with a vision to recognise that this century requires ecological wisdom if we are to reach the end of it!

We look in vain in the PM’s statement for a vision for an eco-nation. A real vision - an organic nation, a waste-free nation, - a vision which gives substance to our clean green image.

Legislation would have been passed committing us to becoming an organic nation by 2020 and putting in place targets to achieve a zero-waste society by 2010. The financial back-up in policy and implementation terms would be in our budget including mortgage guarantee scheme for farmers converting to organics, suspensory loans and a national organics advisory service.

The Department of Statistics would be busily engaged in developing social and natural resource accounts and designing a better measure of progress than that bizarre accounting construction called GDP.

We are delighted that the Government agreed with green proposals to fund some initial work in this area as part of the last budget. We look forward to this bearing fruit over the next few years. There is little glamour in national accounts but changing the way we measure success is crucial to our survival.

We find it ironic that the “long term” is blithely discussed in superannuation policy and trade policy without any reference to the impacts of climate change. Global climate change is happening now, and it is huge. New Zealand continues to skirt around this issue. A crucial part of our vision involves New Zealand becoming a world-leader in “fossil-fuel proofing” our economy. We are already seeing the high cost of car dependence as fuel prices accelerate. We desperately need a new vision if our economy and our communities are not be crippled by our dependence on fossil fuel driven trucks and cars.

There is also a frightening degree of acceptance of globalisation. It is not here to stay New Zealand has real choices about whether it buys ever more into a world of corporate governance and alienation. The Green vision is of strong nations building a greater sense of self-worth through self-reliance. It is international but not imperial. Localisation, rather than globalisation is the watchword of truly sustainable development.

A radical overhaul of overseas investment legislation should be underway, reflecting much tighter national interest criteria, a more thorough evaluation process, and a code of corporate responsibility for foreign investors.

If there is one thing that we should have woken up to over the Christmas period, it is what foreign investors have done to sectors of our economy. Ones needs to think only of Contact Energy and the $6 million salary to its previous chief executive. One has to think only of Tranz rail and how it has not only run down the rail system but, heaven forbid, made the ferries run late, then run early something that used to be blamed solely on our unions, but these days must be sheeted home to irresponsible corporate investors who are more interested in profit than ensuring a comprehensive service between he North Island and the South Island. Our officials overseas should join the growing call for an international tax on financial speculation. We should be carefully examining an across-the-board tariff for balance of payments purposes and we would be in the process of putting in place environmental and labour yardsticks that goods produced overseas must measure up to or bear charges to ensure their price reflects their real costs to people and planet.

Bio-security at our borders would be moving to a system where the full environmental costs of imports are built into the border control system. “Impairing trade” would no longer be an excuse for dirty containers and foreign organisms to enter New Zealand.

Together these would support and lock in the benefits of a lower New Zealand dollar and create an economy that uses resources sparingly and is rich in meaningful work.

There is much talk of this knowledge economy and the need for more educated and skilled people – but the Government has yet to make a significant contribution to improving our tertiary education sector. The 2.3% increase in tuition subsidies equated to an average funding increase of around 1.6% – this is less than inflation. Student debt is still predicted to rise to $20 billion by 2020.

While this Government may have looked to the future for all the ageing baby boomers in this chamber today they have been less than assiduous in investing in the future for our young people who enter their twenties and thirties with huge debts. These young people are unable to get loans to buy their own homes, and many have been forced to move overseas.

We want the government to implement Green Party policy of debt write offs for all students who choose to remain in New Zealand and contribute full time to our society – paid and unpaid work and provide incentives for those overseas by matching debt repayments dollar for dollar.

That seems a far more sensible and honest way to upskill our workforce than what has been outlined in the government policy where there is talk of relaxing immigration and recruiting from the global labour market to deal with our skill shortage. We should be investing in our young people and retraining older workers from declining industries, instead of doing it on the cheap. What we are doing is pinching skilled people from other countries, especially developing countries that can least afford to lose their skills base.

Over the past year polytechnics and universities have been in serious financial distress and they have cut courses, merged faculties, and laid off staff to make ends meet. The ensuing environment of uncertainty and low morale does not produce quality education. New Zealand needs to take the lead from other countries such as UK, Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong and the USA and reinvest directly in higher education.

A knowledge economy is more than IT, science and business – it is about building the knowledge and wisdom base of NZers on how to live in our natural environment and how to build and care for communities, how to build a sustainable economy how to live with others without conflict and how to actively participate in decision-making processes.

We want the Government to take on board those issues. We want to make sure that the economy is not built at the expense of the other species we share this country with. So we hope this year to see a commitment from the Government to phase out some of the more cruel aspects of factory farming such as the sow crate and battery hen cage. We want to see the government implement and establish an independent food safety agency that the Labour Party committed to in its election manifesto. At a time when consumer confidence in food safety has been rocked by the bone spongiform encephalopathy criss stocks and residues in food, the fact that genetically engineered foods are allowed to slip into our food supply unlabelled and without pre-market safety testing, we believe is exactly the right time to establish a stand-alone agency in this area.

We will certainly be actively participating in every opportunity we can to influence the direction of this Government this year. In addition to play an active role in the Government’s legislative programme we are currently negotiating a range of Green initiatives in this year’s budget and have a number of members bills in the ballot to implement green principles. These include Road Traffic Reduction Bill (Jeanette Fitzsimons) to ensure national and regional targets for reducing traffic; Clean Slate Bill (Nandor Tanczos) to wipe criminal records for minor offences after 7 years without re-offending; Refugee Claimants (Rights Protection) Bill (Keith Locke) to improve legal aid access for asylum seekers; Agricultural Chemical Trespass Bill which Ian Ewen-Street is promoting to restrict spraydrift and its harmful effects on peoples health; Pesticide Reduction Bill (Sue Kedgley) to halve the amount of pesticides used in New Zealand within 5 years; and finally a bill in Sue Bradford’s name to repeal the rights of parents to use force to discipline their children.

Other MPs in the Green team will outline their priorities for the year as they speak throughout the course of this debate.


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