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Green Party Budget Speech - May 24 2001

Delivered by Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons

At the heart of Green thinking is a vision of healthy and replenishing relationships. From the way we treat our children, our whanau, our neighbours, and the strangers who need our help, through they way we organise work to the way we live within nature as a species, the Green message is that we must focus on the quality of relationships.

Other parties have traditionally talked of rights - human rights from the left, property rights and personal responsibilities from the right. As well as rights and responsibilities, which are legalistic and static, the Greens talk of relationships, which are evolving and mutual.

We must learn to judge ourselves by how we treat ourselves, our fellow human beings and the other creatures with whom we weave the web of life. This is as true in preparing a budget as it is in judging the worth of a friendship.

That is why we speak of a wisdom economy rather than a knowledge economy. As a country and as a species we need to learn a little humility before we discover the hard way that we know far less than we think we do about the extent to which are connected with other life on this planet.

As a Party we are optimists - we believe that our collective sanity will prevail before either a global climatic catastrophe or a biological disaster or both overwhelms us. Our modest part in that move towards collective sanity is to both educate and initiate through the Parliamentary system and the body politic.

We believe the Green initiatives that the Government has agreed to fund as part of today's budget help achieve both these goals. There is of course vastly more to be done.

The Green Party's continued support for the Labour-Alliance coalition reflects our belief that this is the best way to begin to give effect to our vision in this Parliament at the start of the new millennium. We have our significant differences with the Coalition but we also have much in common with it. And so we stand here honouring our commitment to give this Government the financial certainty it needs to govern for another year.

The Greens are here for the long-term. It has not passed the Green Party by that one of the greatest contributions we have made to this Government is that most people on a day to day basis do not think of it as a minority government. New Zealand's Government debt carries little in the way of political risk premium.

That certainty means less money is spent on debt servicing and hence more money is available for the services that New Zealanders need. Every New Zealander is sharing in a stability dividend worth several hundred million dollars in this budget. This is a significant achievement for our second MMP Parliament and one which the Greens, Labour and the Alliance can be justly proud of.

I want to congratulate Alliance leader Jim Anderton for securing one million dollars for the Industrial supplies office to give NZ industry the chance to secure government contracts. This is a very positive step. That said, there is of course much more to be done to achieve a more sensible degree of self-reliance. Import substitution is an essential complement to exporting, and is a vital part of risk management in an uncertain world economy. At present we are, in the words of one commentator, a "Swiss Cheese" economy - full of holes! This is an area where the Greens will continue to press for a more balanced policy.

We welcome the Eco 2001 initiative, and the end to the funding cliff for the Ministry for the Environment, though there is more work to do here. Changes to Defence are welcome including many of the changes we suggested in last year's budget speech.

We are particularly pleased to see genuine initiatives in the area of child youth and family services which is long overdue, and an attempt to simplify the Family Support system. As we look to the future of New Zealand, we must invest in our children, and ensure they grow up healthy and happy with a sense of security and love. We will watch with interest to see whether the department with a one-year injection can deliver on the promise to deal with the backlog of cases.

The funding commitments to health and education are welcome but we note that there are wage pressures in these sectors as a result of years of neglect and suggest the Government needs to look more seriously at providing for these needs if we are to train and retain a credible workforce in health and education.

As part of our ongoing relationship with the Government we are pleased to have negotiated our second round of Green Party budget initiatives. As with last year, the sums involved are modest - this year the total value is $16.4 million - but each initiative is a strategic approach to steering towards a just and sustainable future in partnership with the community.

The Green Party sees the funding of our initiatives by the Government as a sign of good faith. Last year the Greens came in late to the budget process and received a political promise of $15 million in contingency funds. This year we have been involved months before today, and have put in the ground work with individual Ministers and with the Prime Minister.

I would be lying if I said that it was an easier process than last year, but it has been a constructive process and I believe our relationship with the Government has matured because of it. Labour, the Alliance and the Greens have found themselves in a unique political threesome, and we are all feeling our way towards a harmonious working relationship.

This is MMP, and it works - because more diverse voices now have a say in Parliament than ever before.

Greens are good at making a little go a long way, as has been demonstrated by the success of last year's projects. The Government has recognised the value of these projects by agreeing to continue funding for over a dozen Green initiatives that began life in the last budget as one-off trials.

We are also very pleased that many of the Green projects have now secured funding for further out years, meaning that people who have responsibility for their day to day management have no fear that funding will suddenly cease.

One of the most successful initiatives from last year was the Conservation Awareness package. The Government has announced that an additional $10 million will continue the programme over the next four years. Altogether local conservancies were able to initiate 61 different projects with the funding from last year's budget, working with children in and out of schools; iwi; Maori educators; land owners; volunteers, rural and urban groups involved in protecting their local area. The success of this initiative is demonstrated by the special conservation awareness report published earlier this year

A pivotal area of Green initiatives is the promotion of organic farming in New Zealand and we welcome the commitment to further work on advice for organic farmers in Michael Cullen's speech. This year sees the continuation of the development programme to assist small growers, and new funding to develop national minimum standards for organics, and we look forward to negotiating at least one further organic initiative with the Government in this financial year.

In parallel with the national standards, we are pleased that the government continues to support the development of a regional-based, group certification system for smaller growers for the domestic market. This will help reduce the costs of certification and enable small growers to provide consumer guarantees as to their production methods. Both these projects have been warmly welcomed by the organics community, and are small steps along the way to our goal of an organic nation by 2020.

Once again, the Greens have successfully negotiated $2.75 million of funding for biosecurity. Of that, $1.55 million will continue to improve biosecurity public awareness programs, so that people are more conscious of the enormous economic value of keeping our ecosystem free of invasive pests and diseases and our agriculture and forestry free of disasters like Foot and Mouth disease.

Illegal entry of GE seeds remains a major concern and a potentially serious threat to our burgeoning organics industry.

A new Green initiative for this budget is a feasibility study to look at establishing a peacekeeping school. This is not a novel idea, there are peacekeeping schools in other countries such as Canada, Ireland and the Netherlands.

A peacekeeping school would build on New Zealand's excellence in peacekeeping and would make us a centre of training in the South Pacific, Asian region.

Another new initiative this year is the small but potentially very significant Community Internships programme. This will be run through the Dept of Internal Affairs and is designed to give experienced people from any sector, public, private or community the opportunity to take up a six month placement in a voluntary sector organisation.

The Government has agreed to work with the Green Party to look at testing for soil dioxin levels in potentially contaminated areas. Only yesterday New Zealand signed the POP's convention committing us to action to eliminate dioxins and other toxic chemicals from our environment.

Now is time to act on that commitment. In particular we need to take urgent action to reassure the people who live near the Dow factory in New Plymouth that their health is not being put at risk.

The Government signalled that it would like to do more in the Health area. We agree. We are particularly concerned that there is no sign of funds to increase preventative and environmental health services despite DHBs increased obligations in this area.

The Government must bite the bullet and increase funding for both preventative health and treatment - this is the only way to break out of the permanent crisis that seems to surround health.

While there are some positive initiatives for schools in this budget, the day to day burden faced by trustees and principals in meeting the on going costs of schooling will not be greatly eased. There is limited room for schools and the Government to meet teacher wage demands.

One of the biggest disappointments of this budget that we share with most New Zealanders is the lack of support for the tertiary sector. As the Government looks ahead to a knowledge economy, they are starving the very people and institutions who are key to our future development.

The Government has been warned that institutions cannot continue to operate under current financial constraints. This year Student debt has already exceeded $4 billion. While the Minister is concerned about lack of national savings and individuals saving for retirement, what impact will $20 billion of student debt in 2020 have on the next generation's ability to save for their own retirement as well as ours.

We cannot help commenting that pre-funding superannuation seems to be taking away resources that could otherwise be invested in environmental health and human capital. This pressure can only grow over time as the pre-funding commitment takes up a greater and greater proportion of available cash.

A similar concern arises in respect of our income support system. We do applaud the streamlining of family support, the transitional help from welfare to work and the housing initiatives but we note that there is no sign here of a serious attempt to tackle chronic income inequality both across the country and between regions.

It is time for a serious look at universal income systems, for example through a guaranteed minimum income for all.

We are also disappointed but not surprised that there is nothing in this Budget to improve animal welfare. The Government declined our bid to provide some assistance for the rapid phase out of the cruel practice of sow crates, despite an agreement from the pork board to play its part if the Government had come to the party.

We are disappointed but we will never give up. We know the public is behind the Greens on this issue.

I want to spend a little time now on the Green Party's economic vision. As our economic manifesto says, the Greens are the only Party that puts the environment and justice at the centre of economic policy. Far too much economic debate in this country is conducted using the tired old rhetoric of "trade-offs" between economic, social and environmental goals. This is a kind of intellectual and spiritual mediocrity that our country can ill afford.

The Greens have a clear vision for an eco-nation, a partnership between community, business and government to create genuine sustainable development. We have clearly articulated an agenda for ecological tax reform, community-led economic development and increased self-reliance rather than mindless globalisation.

We believe New Zealand needs to aim for full enjoyment for everyone.

Yes I mean full enjoyment not just full employment. Neither is possible with 5% unemployment - as a nation we can and must do better.

Of course, full employment is achievable - we're the only species on earth which even has a notion of unemployment! - but its only part of the story. Work needs to be rewarding as well as remunerative and we need to recognise and value all work, paid and unpaid. The young and the old need to feel valued and the sick and frail need to feel secure.

Despite the Government's continued optimism on the economy and some reasonable figures such as unemployment projected at 5% and GDP growth at 2.5% in 2004 (if you think that's a good thing) the latest economic news from the Reserve Bank includes some notes of caution.

With positive influences, particularly the low dollar, it was expected there would have been some investment in export and import competing sectors. But investment in plant and equipment has started to slide.

>From a Green point of view this points to the unsustainability of the conventional economic model. We continue to measure our success by growth in GDP rather than through any measures actually connected to our quality of life.

By contrast Green policies aim to build an ecologically sustainable society, rich in work and low on waste. By measuring our success with accounts that consider society and the environment - not just profits - we can actually create 100 per cent Pure New Zealand as more than marketing hype!

The time scale we are talking about has already been quantified in some areas. We believe NZ could be an organic nation by the year 2020. We could be a zero-waste society by 2010.

A carbon tax with associated income tax reductions should be in place by the next election. And a move to safe and sustainable trade would not only put our trade balance back in the black but would also generate tens of thousands more jobs.

We believe there is massive potential for jobs and sustainable development in the fields of clean technology and believe we could be world leaders in this field. Our research science and technology funding urgently needs reorienting to support this and other sustainable development goals rather than driving head long down the blind alley of genetic engineering.

I spoke at the beginning of the difference between knowledge and wisdom. No area more reflects human arrogance and scientific hubris than the unfettered pursuit of genetic engineering.

Soon the Government will consider the report of the royal commission on genetic modification and decide where to draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable. We suggest the place to draw that line is at the laboratory door. Any decision to allow GE organisms into our farms and fields will be irreversible and will overshadow all other initiatives in this budget for the millennium.

One of the biggest concerns for Green Parties around the world is climate change. I am proud that one of the first priorities of the Greens in negotiating initiatives with the Government last year was to combat climate change. $3 million was put into a raft of energy efficiency initiatives being developed by the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority. The same amount of funding has now been secured for this year and future years.

My Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act, requires the authority to develop and implement the national energy efficiency and conservation strategy. Saving energy is the cheapest, easiest and most common sense way to start combating climate change.

However, the Green Party is growing frustrated with the dominance of rhetoric over action on climate change policy. It is difficult to see what, beyond funding the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority, the Government is actually doing.

By now we could have had a carbon tax in place, a reintegrated and reformed electricity system with a moratorium on new fossil-fuel power stations, an end to several destructive and pointless urban roading projects, greatly enhanced public transport, Government leadership in alternative fuels, and action on a range of standards and programmes to improve energy efficiency.

Instead, we see business as usual. The Government passed up the opportunity to buy back Contact Energy. In doing so they passed up a chance to end the pointless increase in greenhouse gas emissions that has resulted from the creation of the wholesale market.

The Government has also refused to call-in major new thermal power stations which will significantly add to our greenhouse gas emissions.

Even worse, climate change policy and transport policy seem to exist in parallel universes.

Last year we congratulated the Government on transport. But after quick work in the first twelve months, the Government appears stuck. We have yet to see meaningful progress on a national rail policy, despite the critical urgency of this issue. Just yesterday one of the hundreds of trucks freighting dangerous cargo on New Zealand's public roads spilt 18 tonnes of rat poison into the sea south of Kaikoura with severe and long term poisoning of marine life and fisheries.

Unless the Government takes Green Party advice and regains control over our rail tracks - which should never have been sold - we will see an explosion of heavy trucks on our roads in coming years, and more serious accidents like this.

We must break the "more roads, more vehicles" cycle in this country or our quality of life will rapidly deteriorate and our climate change goals will be so much pious hot air.

The Greens have put forward detailed proposals for reform in transport. We expect more from the Government in this area and we expect it soon.

In the areas that are supposedly the core of Labour and Alliance politics there are certain initiatives that could and should be done now, without breaking the bank. These include reintroducing the Emergency Unemployment Benefit for students and removing equity concerns about the Community Services Card scheme.

A Green budget would have led the way through a community banking scheme and a community development fund, as well as a range of training and support initiatives to build partnerships between community, government and business. There is more than enough meaningful work to be done building an ecologically sustainable economy and strong communities.

[We need the courage to dream and the strength to realise our dreams.]

The time to start is now.

ENDS


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