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Achieving A Clean And Green NZ - Hobbs Speech

Hon Marion Hobbs Speech Notes

Achieving A Clean And Green NZ - From Information To Motivation

State Of The Nation's Environment Address 2001

Te Papa 6th June 2001, 9.05am

Thank you for inviting me to deliver this, the third, and my second, address on the “State of the Nation's Environment”.

Te Papa is a most appropriate venue. Most of you know that Te Papa is “our place” but how many of you know Te Papa’s mission:

“Ka tu te Whare Taonga o Aotearoa Te Papa Tongarewa hei wananga mo te motu, ki te whakara, ki te hopara, ki te whakapumau i nga tikanga maha, me nga mohiotanga mo te ao tuturu, kia whai mana ai enai mohiotanga, mai nehera, kia mau pakari ai mo inaianei, whai ki te wa kei mua”

For those who aren't fluent in Te Reo:

“The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa is a forum for the nation to present, explore, and preserve the heritage of its cultures and knowledge of the natural environment in order to better understand and treasure the past, enrich the present and meet the challenges of the future.”

Our mission over the next two days is about better understanding and communicating so we can meet the challenges of the future.

I’m here to talk to you about the State of the Nation’s Environment. But I will let you in on a secret now. I’m not going to tell you about the state of New Zealand’s environment in any detail. You’re all intelligent adults, you don’t need me to tell you. Go and look for yourselves at the fantastic displays out on the concourse over the next two days - they will tell you all sorts of fascinating facts and figures about the State of New Zealand’s environment.

No, what I want to talk about is New Zealand's environmental "state of mind" - about the perceptions, the realities and the myths that swirl around our understanding of our environment, and how I am proposing to help turn them into a reality.

Last year I shattered a few myths. Let me remind you quickly what some of them were:

Myth One -- our beaches and rivers are safe to swim in. The reality is that many of our urban beaches and streams are unsafe because of contamination from farm runoff, stormwater drains and sewage overflows.

Myth Two -- New Zealand doesn’t have a problem with air quality. Most of our cities and some small provincial towns periodically do experience air quality worse than London's.

Another myth was that we don’t have a waste disposal problem - you put your rubbish bag out at the gate, someone takes it away and it magically evaporates or disappears. Well, at least all you here know that one isn’t true.

The bigger question is whether our clean green image is a complete myth? No it's not! - but it is certainly looking jaded !

I think it is still a credible image relative to other countries - but more by luck than design - and it is clearly under serious threat.

What is also true is that we can make it more of a reality. And that is what I want to talk to you about this morning.

Recent research by the Marketing Department at Massey University shows that around 90% of New Zealanders value highly clean air, clean water in lakes and rivers, and unpolluted water in beaches and harbours. Most of us also value highly our unique plant and animal life, our national parks and healthy soil that is not polluted with chemicals. But, and here’s that gap between perception and reality again, 42% of survey participants believe that New Zealand’s clean, green image is a myth, and 67% of people agree that New Zealand is cleaner than other countries only because of our small population. But the numbers who are prepared to do the right thing for the environment are much lower and falling.

I’ve also recently asked ordinary New Zealanders, through the RIO+10 programme, what they think about the state of our environment so that I can feed that information back to the next earth summit in South Africa next year. It will be interesting to see how many people who fill out a Rio+10 report card think that our clean green image is a myth.

But life is full of myths or half-truths and they are not all bad or a reason to become cynical and throw in the towel.

One of the greatest myths alive is Father Christmas. If we didn't want to make Father Christmas a reality for our children then why is it that so many of us stay up until 2am putting together that bike or trampoline that the man in the shop said a monkey could put together in 30 minutes? Why do we drink the warm milk (or whisky if you are lucky) and eat the cake that you have helped the kids put out for Father Christmas? Why do we stagger into bed so that the kids can wake you up an hour later to show you what Father Christmas has brought?

And, as a parent, doesn’t a little part of you die when your child comes home from school and tells you that Father Christmas isn’t real?

You know, it’s not that dissimilar when it comes to our environment. Each time we do something that damages our environment, or moves the clean and green reality a little bit further from our perception, a little bit of what makes New Zealand unique dies also.

Maori have known this for over a 1000 years. In Maori it is called “mauri” which is translated to mean “life force”. Mauri animates and illuminates all things, and if mauri is present in a locality, then that locality can be said to be in good health. Conversely, death, in the Maori view, is characterised by the absence of mauri.

Every time we degrade our environment, it loses some of its mauri. But you can restore mauri, if you take positive action you can reverse a trend!

Some myths reinforce what we want to believe is true and can give us a goal to aspire to. Good myths can help keep our dreams alive. It would be great to make Santa a reality for our children - we can't off course - but we can make a clean, green image a reality if we believe its worth striving for - and that's a present worth receiving and treasuring.

We are all familiar with the famous exchange of letters between Virginia O’Hanlon and Francis P Church in 1897. I can see you all racking your brains, thinking that no bells are ringing, thinking I have no idea who she is talking about. But what if I told you that Francis P Church was an editor at the New York Sun and that Virginia was 8 years old in 1897 when she wrote to the Sun to ask if there was a Santa Claus (because her "little friends" had said he was a myth). To paraphrase the Editor's reply:

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the scepticism of a sceptical age¡K In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared to the boundless world about him¡K Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there was no Santa Claus !

Alas! How dreary New Zealand would be if we can't make its clean, green image a reality for our children.

Francis P Church's famous editorial was reprinted every year until 1949. But it’s not just the myth of Father Christmas that keeps him alive, or Francis P Church's editorial. It’s the hard work of all the parents. It's the marketing people and retailers who keep it alive. If retailers and marketing executives made Father Christmas inaccessible, if they provided no information, didn’t do the advertising, or sent mixed messages there would be no Christmas as we know it. The idea of Father Christmas motivates people.

I want to see the same thing with clean green Aotearoa. And to do that we need to make it easy for people, we need to make the message accessible, achievable and within everyone’s reach. We need to provide information at such a level that environmental degradation is not so big an issue that people lose faith - no longer believing that the actions of one individual can make a difference. Because, you know and I know that it is the collective actions of individuals that make the most difference, not only legislation or politicians.

The Massey University survey also found that most New Zealanders believe that the government should legislate to protect the environment. Further the government should pass laws to make people and businesses protect the environment even if it impinges on their rights to make their own decisions.

So in our attitudes to the environment there’s an element of “somebody should, but it’s not me, it’s the government”, and a gap between our concerns and our action.

All of this raises some really interesting questions, how do you motivate people to want to take action? And whose job is it to look after the environment?

Undoubtedly, central and local government politicians and scientists do have an important role to play. But if we left it all to government and high-powered scientists we would never get consensus or enough certainty to get started. And don’t be fooled into thinking that tinkering with the Resource Management Act will solve everyone’s problems. There is more to environmental management than the RMA! So we can’t leave it to central and local government and scientists - we need both!

This idea of individual action isn’t new to me or to any of you. And as Minister for the Environment I have worked with the Ministry for the Environment over the last 18 months or so on some initiatives that will motivate individuals and communities to take action. For example Ministry for the Environment has been showing positive leadership on landfill management. This has resulted in modified operating procedures and early closure plans for some landfills. And new landfills such as the one in Gisborne are undergoing careful and open reviews before they start to dig holes.

As any marketing company knows, you can’t run a campaign without money! So I have secured ongoing funding for the Ministry for the Environment, so that programmes like the environmental indicators' programme have secure funding for the foreseeable future. And don't dismiss that achievement as something simple.

Others are also doing great work. The Auckland Regional Council recently beat more than 800 competitors to win an International Gold Quill Award from International Association of Business Communicators for the 0800 SMOKEY campaign. Not only was 0800 SMOKEY a marketing success. It was practical. It motivated people to take action and they did. There were more than 50,000 calls to the hotline where more than 20,000 different people dobbed in 23,000 different vehicles.

The worst offending vehicle was dobbed in 67 times! Boy, those people must have thought they were really popular!

Not only did the campaign motivate people and change behaviour, but it also changed their expectations of councils and the Minister for the Environment to do their bit to fix the problem. We now have a stronger mandate for action!

We need more of these practical initiatives that motivate people to take action.

Returning to this Christmas analogy. Christmas is special. It’s magical, all that giving and receiving and spending time with family and friends.

New Zealand is special too. But what makes us special? What makes us unique and makes people want to come here? It’s our culture, our environment and our lifestyle.

In fact pretty much all of our economy is based in some way or another on our environment and it is increasingly quality not quantity that matters. We all know that we can’t compete on volume or size. Think of our wine, our wool - in particular Merino NZ who sell their wool to top European fashion houses - and our dairy produce that is all marketed using the clean green image.

We need to get to those sceptics and cynics and change their opinions - make them believe that their individual actions can contribute to making the clean, green image a reality. We need to get to those sceptics and cynics in councils and government and change their opinions, so that they provide the leadership.

I want now to talk about my leadership, about my vision and about my priorities to:

Make our clean, green image a reality in our cities, towns and rural places.

At the end of the day, I think New Zealanders want relatively simple things, such as, being able to swim at a clean beach, to see the horizon on a clear day and to live in liveable cities. Unfortunately many people do not recognise that these things are under threat, or if they do, are daunted by the increasingly complex solutions or the need to limit there own expectations (ie: curbing coastal subdivision). They see environment as "over there" in, for example, a national park but not in their backyard. My vision is therefore a careful re-positioning, which acknowledges the gap between image and reality, as the first step towards motivating change. And it seeks to involve all New Zealanders in working on the solutions.

I acknowledge this shift is a "double-edged sword", because we rely on this clean, green image for so much of our trade. But unless we get people to recognise the threat we will not get purchase on the problems. We also need to be clear that we are better off than most other countries; that it is a not about halting the good work already under way but about doing more, faster - and developing new innovative strategies for our more intractable problems.

This vision is my contribution to the whole-of-government pursuit of sustainable development. In my view there is huge potential in promoting innovation and seeking economic growth that is environmentally sound and creates jobs. New Zealanders' future prosperity is about smart growth, based on innovation and knowledge, and using and sustaining our natural assets. New Zealanders' future health depends on safe water supplies, breathable air and strict controls on hazardous substances and organisms. The smart people we want to retain and attract want to live in a clean, green country. Investment in environment is therefore a strategic investment in our prosperity.

I am pursuing six broad objectives to make this vision a reality:

- To motivate and empower people to own the problems and the solutions

- To reduce risks to people and the environment

- To promote environmentally friendly economic growth ie "decoupling"

- To cement a close working relationship with local government and iwi

- To forge a strategic alliance with clean, green business to promote sustainable development

- To streamline rules and regulations (without compromising the above).

The previous government's approach was very much a hands-off, minimal central government, approach.

My approach is partnership underpinned by strong government leadership. It is not a return to centralisation.

The previous government had a "level playing field" approach, whereas I am looking to tip the playing field in favour of clean, green business. I am also saying that we need to move beyond the "end of the pipe" mentality to policies that decouple environmental damage from economic growth. That is, we need to move to smart growth; where we grow without the environmental damage. What do I mean by "end-of-pipe? At the moment we look at the effects of the discharge instead of examining whether we should have the discharge itself. Instead of just building secure landfills let's also focus on reducing waste at source.

This government's four highest priority issues are:

- Climate change: taking actions to support the government’s commitment to ratifying the Kyoto Protocol; developing environmentally sustainable transport and energy options.

- Genetic Modification: creating and implementing a long term strategy for GM following the report of the Royal Commission;

- Hazard and waste reduction: making HSNO work, and tackling existing contamination; implementing a new strategy to move New Zealand towards zero waste.

- Protecting biodiversity, air and water: setting national standards and promoting their uptake; working with industry sectors including the dairy industry; promoting more efficient use of water resources through guidance and assistance; developing national policy and support for action at the local level.

These priorities are not a surprise. The real question is why have we not made more progress? There is a general consensus that we have made progress on the more obvious and easier-to-fix problems. For example, we have cleaned up most sewage discharges, installed dairy farm ponds and closed many old tips. Unfortunately, we are left increasingly with more complex and diffuse problems, such as loss of biodiversity and the effects of dairy farm runoff on lowland water quality. This where tools other than, or in addition to, regulation are required to change people's behaviour (eg: reducing waste, or fencing off riparian areas).

To date I have deliberately focussed much of MfE's work programme on practical action rather than some of the bigger questions, such as, are the current policies and institutions delivering the Labour-Alliance overall goals for the environment? Fifteen years on from the major institutional changes that set up the Ministry for the Environment and the Department of Conservation etc, 10 years on from when the RMA commenced and in the lead up to the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg September 2002), I believe it is now time to review our overall progress.

In the longer term I have asked the Ministry to review four strategic areas over the next year:

- Performance and monitoring : I want to know how we monitor environmental results and performance of local and central government agencies with the aim of providing incentives to councils and other agencies to meet the governments overall environmental objectives;

- Community Action: I will review of how we promote environmental awareness and action in the community; so that we can set up new long term communication and education programmes.

- Business innovation and bio-economy: I will create new approaches to business environmental innovation and seek alliances with key sectors who are willing to embrace a sustainable development; (ie the dairy industry)

- Environmental legislation and institutions: I want better integrated waste and hazardous substances management under RMA and HSNO (and I am willing to go "up the pipe" to achieve this rather than stick slavishly to environmental effects); reduced litigation and alternative dispute resolution; new mechanisms for promoting national policy, consistency and standards; and alternative institutional models that will improve capacity and leadership at the national level.

In conclusion, I am signalling a strategic shift in direction.

This means recognising the gap between the clean green image and reality.

This means seeing environment as an economic opportunity not just a cost.

This means working both from the bottom up (which I had already begun through Rio+10 and similar community awareness programmes) and from the top down (through stronger leadership, promoting best practice, developing more standards and reviewing the institutional capacity to deliver these things).

This means no longer being branded as the Minister of the RMA (or the Grinch that stole Christmas) but rather to be described as the Minister for the Environment.

Over the next two days you are going to do a lot more work towards making our clean green image a reality - from information to motivation. You have some fantastic speakers from overseas, and some great local talent on the discussion panels.

I look forward to seeing the outcomes of your conference. And so to quote the famous New York Sun headline, yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus! And yes people a clean green New Zealand can be a reality if you really want it to be!

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