Fitzsimmons: Greening Government - The Scorecard
2 June 2001
Greening Government - the Scorecard
Address to the 2001 Green Party Annual Conference Tahunanui Beach, Nelson 2 June 2001
Jeanette Fitzsimons MP, Green Party Co-leader
We have just passed the mid-point of this parliamentary term, and it's close to mid-winter. Both are appropriate times for reflection - looking back and looking forward, both on a government with a new agenda after years of right wing ideology, and on the first green group holding the balance of power.
This government has been startlingly different from the last in one respect - the coalition has operated as a unit, and has widely been regarded as a majority government, even though it is not. It is the Greens who have given it this stability and, as I said in my speech in reply to the Budget, have saved NZ taxpayers some millions of dollars in a lower political risk premium on our overseas debt than might otherwise have been the case.
But thousands of people did not work for nearly thirty years to get Green representation in Parliament just to give stability to someone else's government, so it is time we assessed the performance of this three-headed creature we have created. Not against its own policies, although that would be interesting, but against ours, because that is what we are here to progress.
We have said we are offering confidence and supply to this government because it will take us closer than the alternative of a National-Act coalition to our four founding principles of ecological wisdom, social justice, democracy, and peace/non-violence. We need to be sure that is still true.
Starting with the last of these it has been very heartening to see a rationalisation of our defence forces in order to better equip and resource ground based peace-keeping forces and an acceptance that an air-strike force and further frigates are expensive toys with very limited value in peace-keeping or peace-making. Keith has been advocating the abandonment of the skyhawks since we came to Parliament and of course well before that. He has also succeeded in securing budget funding for a peace-keeping training school which could become a centre for the Pacific.
But peace begins much closer to home with building a culture of non-violence and this is a tougher task. The levels of violence against children in their families is building an increasingly violent future and the extra funding for CYFS in this budget, while welcome and significant, will not be enough to turn it around.
A government of the left - or centre left as they like to call it - would expect to be judged on its contribution to social policy. We have seen some small improvements in terms of the credit card pledges - the extra $20 a week has been restored to super, income related rents are in place for state tenants, though they are now few; a slight rise in the minimum wage, a freeze on interest for student loans and that's about it. There is nothing to help beneficiaries unless the jobs machine really delivers, and the jury is still out on that one. The anomalies of student emergency unemployment benefit, the community service card income ceiling which has risen for superannuitants but not low paid workers and the ongoing shame of child poverty are continuing to fester.
We have fought on those issues and lost, because they are all big budget issues. This is where the bind of representing only 5% of the vote kicks in. But when voters realise that it is the Greens who are upholding the principles of equality and social justice in Parliament they will give us their vote too. Sue Bradford is doing a fantastic job of hauling the Government up to public scrutiny every time they put the demands of business ahead of the needs of the poor. But at the same time we must be careful not to promise more than we can eventually deliver and fund so we don't get into the bind the Alliance is in now.
Health and education seem to be faring little better than under the previous government. Tertiary education desperately needs a commitment to excellence, funding and participation all at once.
The best that can be said on social issues is that this government has restored a small part of the social welfare policies we used to have under National governments up till and including the time of Muldoon. The starting point it has been handed by previous governments have made even this tiny amount feel better than before, but it has certainly not closed any gaps between rich and poor.
Democracy as the Greens see it is not about voting every three years but about structures that allow and encourage maximum participation in decisions in ways that really shape the outcomes. MMP has facilitated wider participation in central government and now that most of the substance of Rod's bill has been included in the Government's Local Electoral Bill, we hope STV will do the same for local bodies and health boards.
A number of public consultation forums have been created which have the potential to create new policy directions: the Oceans policy which attempts to resolve conflicts between the various uses and values of the sea; the review of the Guardianship Act and the Family Court; a review of the fundamentals of the tax system. To these the Greens have added our initiatives: the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy which could build efficient energy use from the ground up; the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification which could stimulate the most important policy change in the new millennium; and four select committee enquiries into organics, cannabis law reform, the human rights implications of NZ foreign policy, and the role of local government in meeting climate change objectives.
The real test will be the outcomes. How much will these processes really listen to what people are telling them? Are they window dressing or a real effort to allow participation from the grassroots?
At the same time international concern is growing about Waihopai and Echelon, and the email snooping which is aimed not at our military aggressors but at our trade allies and our own citizens. Keith has played a big part in opening the eyes of everyone who relies on computers to just how vulnerable they are to Government intrusion into their lives.
Then there is the fourth principle that might be seen as most fundamental to the Greens, because non-one else is in there batting for it. Ecological wisdom and sustainability.
There is no doubt that this government has given the biggest ever boost to conservation funding with its Biodiversity package last year - $187m over 5 years. Coupled with strong support for stopping whaling and the end to old growth logging by Timberlands, at first sight this is major progress. It was just great to see the old Timberlands forests added to the Conservation estate this week. But the manufactured conflict between regional economic development and ecological sustainability is being fostered and it seems we may have stopped logging for timber only to allow clear felling of West Coast conservation forests for a huge opencast goldmine. There are ominous signs that we may have a government that is willing to put money into protecting the environment from pests but not from unsustainable smokestack industrial activity.
Ministers have threatened changes to the Conservation Act to make it more permissive for mining and to the RMA to make it faster and cheaper for high impact industrial development by shutting out the community. In neither case have they been able to explain just what they have in mind.
The beat-up on the Resource Management Act is continuing and is even fostered by some in Government. Hardly a day goes by without a newspaper somewhere railing against an Act that seeks only to ensure that all development is sustainable. Delays and costs, which are often caused by inadequate information supporting the application or inadequate consultation with the community are blamed on the legislation and on those who seek to exercise their right as citizens to participate in the future shape of the place they live.
Statements go unchallenged that notification of applications causes intolerable delays but fail to mention that more than 95% of applications are non-notified and even more than that are approved within expected timeframes. To their credit, Cabinet has not bowed to pressure to support Simon Upton's proposed amendments that would have seriously curtailed local democracy and put the environment under threat. On the Act itself we have held the line, in keeping with what most submitters told the select committee - where there are problems they are mostly the fault of uneven application of the Act by councils who need more help to improve their processes.
However further amendments are being talked about, led by a review conducted by officials from the old Ministry of Commerce, who are not responsible for the Act but were the origin of the now thoroughly discredited idea of contestable consent processing.
Much has been said about climate change but we still have no economic instrument to make the polluter pay. The left hand and the right hand are as unco-ordinated as ever, with one issuing an energy efficiency and renewables strategy and increasing funding a little for public transport, while the other allows a 50% increase in fossil fuel fired power stations and a big increase in the rate of construction of new urban motorways.
Our rail package seems to have prodded the government into negotiating directly with Trans Rail over the future of the Auckland track but there is still no word on whether they will bite the bullet and regain control over the whole of the track to ensure we retain an integrated system.
The Government is still moving at a glacial pace on getting rid of toxics but Sue K has raised public awareness of issues like dioxins and animals welfare and eventually government will have to respond.
There is no doubt we have pushed the coalition to be greener than they would have been without us. If they need our support to get legislation through our 4 principles suddenly start to count. If they don't need us, we have no influence. This is what has enabled us to have a major impact on the final form of many key pieces of legislation - the Employment Relations Act, the Health reforms, the Electricity Industry Bill, the RMA amendments.
In the final analysis, the demands of world trading organisations and potential industrial investors are seeing Government buckle on issues as diverse as faioling to support my Nuclear Free Zone Extension Bill, leaning towards mining on conservation lands and increasing the supply of fossil energy.. So the score card for the coalition on Ecological Wisdom must still be well below a pass mark.
A litmus test will be the response to the recommendations of the royal commission on genetic modification. That decision is expected in August and has been a main focus of our work because a wrong decision then is irreversible and would undermine everything we are fighting for.
This takes us back to what we are really here for.
I sense a complacency is setting in because we are now solidly above the 5% threshold and future representation seems virtually assured. I don't want to play down the success we have had, * in winning seats in the first place, * in demonstrating we can be a responsible and effective parliamentary team, * in having two bills essentially passed, four sent to select committee and another about to have its first reading; * in too many amendments to legislation to list here; * in a suite of budget initiatives that have made a real difference for little money; * and in a steady rise in the polls.
We should celebrate those things which result from a mixture of hard work, dedication, competence and a certain amount of luck.
But as I've just demonstrated we have not greened government much yet. The Eco-nation we aspire to is still a long way off and sometimes seems to be retreating even further. We cannot afford to be satisfied with a few MPs, $15m in a $38 billion budget, and a few Members' bills.
We want a nation which turns back from the ghastly future of rampant climate change, loss of species, the poisoning of nature and people; we reject a future as a small client state of multi-nationals who use us as grist to their mill, sucking our people, our environment and our economy dry.
We want nothing less than an Eco-nation which respects our relationship with nature, provides for the needs of all before the greed of some, and bases its economic development on sane, humane technologies. Not merely a knowledge economy, but a wisdom economy which understands which knowledge to pursue and how to use it. A wisdom economy which leaves the new genetic technologies safely in a secure laboratory and invests heavily in the sciences that underpin organic growing, protection of our biosecurity, renewable energy, cleaner production, making the most of resources.
We want a society that values higher education and invests in preventative healthcare, transport solutions for a carbon-challenged world, and full employment. A society that is respected by the rest of the world for its wisdom as well as its knowledge.
We cannot get far towards that future with 5%. Or even 7.1, as we were in yesterday's poll. For that we need to be a major player in government. That is not achieved just with some slight of hand or with a better campaign strategy. It will happen when we have accomplished a quiet green revolution in the homes, communities, businesses and farms of New Zealand so that they are thinking green too. I've said many times before that a Green party that loses its activist base and concentrates only on Parliament instead of community action is doomed. Because the greening of NZ cannot be done just through Parliament. So those of you who are involved in your local sewage options study, work trust, alternative healthcare system, energy efficiency project, tree planting, genetic engineering education, women's refuge, organics shop, anti-bases protest, school trust board and all the rest are an essential part of our long term future.
So are those of you who are standing for local government, or supporting those who are candidates. Unlike other parties we don't see local government elections as just a stepping stone to Parliament, but as an essential part of green governance.
Our budget initiatives reflect that need to green the grassroots of society as well as the governance. If you were to find one description that characterises the budget bids we have won it is enabling and empowering communities. - Grants for environment centres; - legal aid to go to the environment court; - help for small local organic growers for the domestic market; - funding for conservation groups to participate in developing the environmental strategy for Fisheries; - the community internship for capacity building in the not for profit sector; - 61 exciting conservation awareness and education projects which are now moving towards participation rather than just education; - a handbook of sewage technology options so communities and councils can find it all in the one place and not be dependent on consultants with vested interests; - kids organics gardens; - even the quit smoking programmes which help people to help themselves.
In order to become a majority partner in government we must first learn the ropes as a minority partner. And how and when that will be the right place for us to be is a major discussion at this conference.
Many times in the last 18 months I have looked at what Government is doing and said "thank goodness we don't have to wear THAT!" How could we have stuck with collective cabinet responsibility when the Singapore and Hong Kong free trade agreements were negotiated? Or when $14m couldn't be found to apply the community card system equally to all on the same income? When the decision was made to stand by and do nothing while 3 giant new gas fired power stations were built? When the latest budget failed to address some of our most pressing social needs?
This is the benefit of holding balance of power but not being in coalition.
But at the same time, as ministers we could have called in those power stations, negotiated and bargained over the community services card, got the chemical trespass working group and the ministerial advisory group on complementary health care up and running a year ago instead of last month; found out of baseline the trifling amount of money needed to put organic growing on a level playing field; had a stronger energy efficiency strategy, and much more.
This is the dilemma. Staying out of government and holding the balance of power has been a place of some influence and comforting safety. It is a good place from which to build. It may be the best place after the next election too, and even for the one after that. But it is not a place from which we can greatly increase the greening of New Zealand. At some stage we must take the next step. What do we need to do first?
I believe sound coalitions are built on trust and no surprises. We don't have to be best buddies but there does have to be a basic respect and a trust that people will keep their word. We are doing our best in Caucus to build that kind of trust. That is why it is important that we are consistent, follow our policy, negotiate hard but fairly, refuse to trade between issues, vote the way we say we will, and explain our decisions well.
They are also built on a minimum acceptable power base. Seven members is just too few to be an effective part of a coalition. Numbers are not everything but they do count. That is the job that faces us over the next 18 months - to grow the green vote both by delivering to the electorate what they expect of us, and by educating the electorate about what we stand for. That is a job that needs to involve every one of our members. Starting now.