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Sustainability, NZ, Auckland & The Future

Hon Jim Anderton Speech Notes

Sustainability, New Zealand, Auckland And The Future

Opening Address to the Sustainable Auckland Congress.

Aotea Centre

Tuesday, 18 September 2001 9:30

Thank you for the opportunity to give the opening address to the Sustainable Auckland Congress.

Let me say at the outset that 'sustainability' can be a hard concept to get across.

The word 'sustainable' sometimes seems like magnet for even more long words, complex expressions and difficult concepts.

'Sustainable development' is a buzz phrase.

It echoes around government daily, as it echoes more and more in other corners of New Zealand.

It's fashionable.

That in itself is neither a recommendation, nor a criticism.

It may be a hard concept to grapple with, but I'm never one to shy from a challenge.

Today I would like to offer a perspective on the important ideas behind sustainability, and briefly outline some of the things the Labour-Alliance Coalition Government is doing.

In my view, sustainable development is being talked about because it's an idea whose time has come.

It means: "Meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

That was the definition adopted by the Labour-Alliance Coalition Government earlier this year.

It's a definition that first popped up in a 1987 UN publication called 'Our Common Future' – usually referred to as the Brundtland Commission Report.

The Brundtland Report said unsustainable development includes resource exhaustion, destruction of the environment, and creating untenable social and economic

Protecting our environment and using resources wisely are important goals.

The environmental movement perhaps largely popularised the importance of thinking about how our actions today affect us tomorrow.

So it's no surprise that many mistakenly believe that sustainability is exclusively about the environment.

But it is also about the economy and about our social health.

As the Brundtland Commission pointed out, this involves:

- Integrating social, environmental and economic issues;

- Thinking broadly about objectives;

- Considering long-term as well as short-term effects

- Assessing indirect as well as direct effects; and

- Taking extra care when changes being brought about by development may be irreversible.

Recently I met with a prominent Nuffield College economist, Tony Atkinson.

He specialises, among other things, in income distribution and the problem of poverty in Europe and we talked about the Social Agenda emerging in Europe.

Europe has adopted a goal of becoming “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustained economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion".

The European Social Agenda is an example of sustainable development in action.

It stresses the importance of linking economic, social and employment policies.

Its goals include:

1. More and better jobs.

2. Changing the work environment to create a new balance between flexibility and security.

3. Fighting poverty and all forms of exclusion.

4. Modernising social protection.

5. Promoting gender equality.

6. Strengthening regions. In Europe, regions are entire countries.

Every year the European Commission has to report on the initiatives it has taken to promote and achieve these goals.

The point about the European Agenda is that social and economic development are linked.

For many years New Zealanders were told that economic policy and social policy had to be separated.

But in Europe today, in pursuit of the goal of becoming “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world”, economic policy and social policy go hand in hand.

For example, more jobs means a stronger economy and more ability to afford essential social services.

We need to start with a vision for the New Zealand we are trying to create.

My vision is of a New Zealand that:

- Produces jobs for all New Zealanders who can work;

- Is confident in its own unique culture;

- Offers world class education and health care;

- Provides security and opportunity for all New Zealanders;

- Protects and enhances its valuable quality of life; and

- Uses resources sustainably and protects its unique flora and fauna.

Realising that vision is the whole point of economic development.

Economic development and economic performance generally are not ends in themselves.

They are vital tools towards realising a vision in which we can all share.

It's vital for the whole community to be included and work together.

We have to get out of our respective silos and work in partnership.

Local authorities, and community groups, businesses of all descriptions, and central government have to sit down and work together.

If they act in isolation, opportunities will be lost.

Problems will remain unsolved.

Those left out of participating in decisions over their future will not support the vision.

If we leave some of our fellow New Zealanders behind, our strategies will be self-defeating.

That's why partnership is the central pillar of the government's approach to economic development.

For a generation, central Government has been the missing partner in economic development.

This Labour-Alliance Coalition Government is committed to working in partnership with the private sector, local authorities, iwi, and the wider community to make sustainable development a reality.

And even within central government, we are working on breaking down silos and taking a whole-of-government approach.

I believe we are already beginning to see some of the fruits of partnership across communities here in the Auckland region.

It's not that long ago that the rest of New Zealand always believed that Aucklanders could never get around the table and work together to solve the region's problems.

Yet the Auckland region is, as I speak, working together on some of the immense problems it faces.

It's likely that the Government's Regional Partnerships approach has helped that process.

It's based on a collaborative approach to broad and long term planning for the future --
identifying opportunities and barriers and charting a way forward.

One of the most striking differences between the economic approach of this government, compared to its predecessors, is our heavy emphasis on regional development.

But when we started out, people asked me 'how does Auckland fit into this?'

My reply is that Auckland is a region.

Like other regions, it needs a plan – a vision for where it is going.

It needs to work together, involving the whole community in deciding its highest priorities.

If that process has been pushed along by this Government's commitment to Regional Partnerships, then we have been successful.

Auckland has begun some positive work across the region.

But the challenges are immense.

Auckland represents approximately 37% of the New Zealand

It has a profound effect on the rest of the country.

And in Auckland, as much as anywhere, the links between social, environmental
and economic issues are obvious.

The transport problem that frustrates every Aucklander is one example.

It has an enormous economic impact in slowing commercial activity and increasing the costs of distributing products.

It has extensive environmental impacts, as the Regional Council forcefully pointed out in the recent debate over diesel emissions.

And it has social implications.

Some are obvious, such as the impact on employment, and the consequences that follow, when the economy is slowed by repeated traffic jams.

Some are not obvious, but still potent, such as the deprivation of family time caused by daily rush-hour delays.

Other social consequences will surely flow from the difficulties faced by poorer Aucklanders in trying to travel around Auckland without a car.

Health problems flow from exposure to poisonous emissions in the atmosphere.

Put like this, it's easy to see how social policy, economic policy and environmental policy are linked.

Sustainable development extends far beyond merely Auckland's infamous traffic problems.

Competitive Auckland has identified that improving economic performance will require an across-the-board approach:

- To the region's infrastructure.

- To creating an environment which supports high amenity and lifestyle values;

- And increased investment in education.

And nowhere in New Zealand more than in Auckland is it vital to see improved economic performance shared by the least affluent.

Many New Zealanders like to paint a picture of a flashy Auckland, full of yuppies on cell phones.

And the same myth says that most of New Zealand's poverty resides in places like Northland and the East Coast.

It's certainly true that there is a very high proportion of New Zealanders living in need in those regions.

But of all New Zealand, simply because of its size and diversity, the greatest concentration of social deprivation is in Auckland.

Let me spell out 'social deprivation':

- Poor housing.

- Poor health.

- Low incomes, and the absence of skills to lift incomes.

- Widespread unemployment.

- High levels of crime.

- Poor literacy.

- Kids who don't get the family life most of us take for granted.

Auckland's development requires a vision for lifting the disadvantaged up.

Leaving behind a substantial proportion of the population is not an acceptable option and it won't work in developing the city as a whole.

I often say that you can't have a strong national economy, if you have weak regions.

Equally, you cannot have a strong economy here in Auckland, if significant parts of the Auckland population are disadvantaged.

In July this year, the government embarked on a New Zealand Sustainable Development Strategy.

It has three main parts:

1. Goals;

2. Headline indicators; and

3. Priorities for action.

The first stage -- draft goals and principles -- will be released for discussion later this year.

We want to find common ground where we can direct our efforts towards a shared vision for New Zealand's future.

I want to close by saying, however, that I hope you can do much more than simply agree on the problems that Auckland faces.

As New Zealanders, we all have to own the solutions as well as the problems.

True progress relies on us all taking responsibility for playing our part.

It’s a bit like prisons.

Everyone wants more prisons, but no one wants one built near them.

Everyone wants hospitals, but when we ask people who can afford it to pay a fairer share of tax, there are not too many volunteers.

The Government doesn't wave a magic wand to provide services.

New Zealanders need to take pride in public service and achieve a sense of fulfilling our national mission together.

Ideas like public service have become unfashionable since the days when John F Kennedy invited his people to ‘ask not what you country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.’

These days the Alliance in government is sometimes accused of putting the future of the coalition and the country ahead of the future of our own party.

And yet what greater calling can there be, than working tirelessly to make our country better?

Public service and selflessness are the highest standards that we can aspire to.

You have a unique opportunity to confront these issues at this Congress.

Auckland is a city of many attractions, and it has many related issues to work on.

The sustainable development of Auckland will require a vision for the whole region.

It will need to bring together Auckland's many, and diverse communities.

A successful vision will include a comprehensive approach to the economic, environmental and social dimensions of providing for the urgent needs of today, while ensuring Auckland will continue to thrive tomorrow.

As you work together to identify the opportunities and barriers to Auckland's success, I wish you all the best.

I congratulate the organisers on bringing this event together.

And I have much pleasure in formally opening the Congress.


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