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Bill English at opening of the Blue/Greens Forum

The Honourable Bill English, MP
Leader of the New Zealand National Party
Leader of the Opposition
at the opening of the Blue/Greens Forum
Auckland, 2 March 2002

Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen

Can I acknowledge the work of the BlueGreens as a group of New Zealanders dedicated to improving our environment. The BlueGreens is one of a number of interest groups which enable people outside the National Party to focus on an issue of interest to them and provide advice to National. I want to congratulate my colleague, Nick Smith, and Chairman, Terry Dunleavy, for the work they have done to make the BlueGreens successful.

National is ambitious for New Zealand as the party that stands for New Zealand and a broad spectrum of New Zealanders. We want to see a country that reflects the special balance New Zealanders look for, between economic progress, the egalitarian ethic and the clean green environment. Finding this balance isn't easy, but over the next ten years, I want to lead a National Party that is pre-eminent in dealing sensibly with environmental issues.

My own experience of the environment reflects that of many New Zealanders. I'm not articulate in giving voice to the relationship I have to the area in which I was born and brought up, its changing seasons and colours and its importance to me as part of my roots and my identity. I, like many others, have been influenced strongly by Simon Upton's account of the unique environmental characteristics of New Zealand. We are an island that was isolated for so much longer than almost any other place on earth. In the short time that we have sustained human habitation, we have changed the natural environment here dramatically. Whether articulated or not, these changes in our landscape are imprinted in our national character. Urbanised as much of our population now is, New Zealanders still have a sense of immediacy and intimacy with their natural environment, on land or sea.

The environmental campaigns of the past, and changes around the world, have changed perceptions of the environment. I represent a large rural area where many would assume there are strong, conservative views and a low level of environmental awareness. If that ever was the case, it certainly isn't now.

In my constituent office we are regularly dealing with people who have a strong interest in waste management and water quality. The rivers in which I swam as a child are now barely drinkable. That is not a legacy that I want to leave to my children.

In my own small farming district attitudes have shifted significantly with respect to farming practices. A neighbour of mine has a farm which is now a monitor farm for sustainable agriculture. This involves extensive scrutiny of his farming practice in a way that demonstrates sustainable agriculture and also makes very sound economics. Just six or seven years ago, it would be hard to imagine there would have been so much interest in this project.

The signal here is that National's own constituency is moving on. Our supporters are demonstrating a higher level of awareness of the environment, and it is important that we can do better than follow them. It is our job to lead. As we set out to lead, we need to have a thorough look at the tools that are available to achieve sound environmental policy.

In my electorate I have large tracts of native forest in the Caitlins, the Fiordland National Park, the SILNA lands and Western Southland. Over a period of some thirteen years, I have seen almost every mistake that can be made in environmental policy being made. We've had in that time harsh and arbitrary regulations established overnight, governments denying that they have had a major impact on people's property rights, tens of millions of dollars paid out subsequently in compensation, legal cases lost by the Crown because it had exceeded its powers and a decade of guerrilla warfare between landowners and foresters and the bureaucracy. After all this trouble we still have, thirteen years later, clear felling of indigenous forest going on in my electorate. This was certainly not the intention of the policy. As the clear felling continues, there is no sign that Government intends to take any action consistent with policies outlined over the last thirteen years. It does raise a question of the integrity of some of the environmental lobby groups - for whom preservation of indigenous forest was at one time a top environmental priority.

We've also seen the debacle of the Government's policy on the West Coast where a world-leading, sustainable forest proposal was cancelled, and a huge amount of money paid out for West Coasters for a right they arguably never had and didn't need to lose. This has totally distorted the process of dealing with any subsequent claims of loss of value through conservation. Perhaps it explains why this Government hasn't undertaken any more such activity. The political fashion seems to have passed and now the lobby groups are completely inactive in putting pressure on the current Government to take steps to finish the job.

>From watching these events, I have developed some views of my own about practical aspects of good environmental policy.

First, actions of government should be fair rather than arbitrary, if actions are to be credible.

Secondly, the Government needs to be willing to pay or to invest when its actions to conserve the environment have a significant impact on property rights. Government can establish a lot of trust with those who live in the environment we want to preserve, if it demonstrates a willingness to share the costs of conservation or of restoring the environment.

That brings me to my third rule which is that Government should regard people as having a positive relationship to their own environment. Too often I saw well-meaning but moralistic politicians and bureaucrats treat those who lived and worked in the natural environment under discussion, as potential vandals, rather than custodians. People are quite capable of responding to the rules and incentives that they face. They will do so positively and often with a spirit of altruism if they are given the chance. The overbearing arrogance of lobby groups and bureaucrats creates distrust which holds up progress. It's crucial that we do not regard people as pollution, or the means by which they make their daily living, as a threat.

I have been impressed with the way the BlueGreens have gone about their thinking on the environment in a principled manner.

I now want to outline five principles which have been strongly influenced by the work of the BlueGreens.

The first is sustainability. Sustainability is a powerful and readily-understood concept. We ought to be able to hand on what we have been given because we make efficient use of resources and take a long-term view about their future use.

The second principle is that environmental success is linked to economic success. National does not believe that the economy and the environment are diametrically opposed. In fact, it is increasingly clear that good economics makes for a good environment. The cleanest countries are the richest countries. This is particularly relevant in New Zealand where high environmental standards are going to be a key part of our future economic success.

Thirdly, we believe in a science-based approach. Environmental issues are often prey to the fads and fashions of the day. Our policy needs to be underpinned by sound research and a good technical understanding of the ecology with which we are dealing. This helps with sound risk management and can provide a sense of common purpose because the decisions are based on evidence.

Fourth, we are committed to consultation and choice. National has views about ensuring that the processes of consultation and choice are not so expensive and long-winded that decisions can't be made, or that they impose unreasonable costs. However, we cannot and should not remove the capacity of a community to make some choices about the environment in which it lives.

A fifth principal is a recognition of the concept of a birthright. We believe people are part of the environment rather than polluters of it. No-one has an exclusive sense of belonging. It is a capacity and a birthright of every New Zealander. I believe that appealing to that sense of belonging is a powerful way to ensure that a wide range of people are involved in raising our environmental standards.

One way we can raise our environmental standards is through a strong biosecurity policy and today I want to announce National's first Environmental Policy Release on Biosecurity.

Biosecurity is an issue for every New Zealander. I am ambitious for our economy and our environment. Having the best biosecurity system in the world is pivotal to that.

Today's policy announcement commits National to passing legislation that will enable those persons who deliberately commit serious biosecurity breaches instantly to be deported.

I make no apology for imposing the toughest environmental protection measures in the world to protect New Zealand.

We need to send a clear, unequivocal message that New Zealand cannot take any risks with biosecurity. The biosecurity policy applies BlueGreens principles. There could be no area where the link between economic and environmental success is so strong. The policy deals with reducing risks to New Zealand of Foot and Mouth Disease and tackling long-standing issues like TB.

The policy is forward-looking in three respects. It recognises that the weakest link in our biosecurity systems is in surveillance and response, and so we commit to establishing a Biosecurity Emergency Response Fund. It also puts more emphasis on the biosecurity of our natural habitats and marine industries.

That, ultimately, is what National's environmental policy is all about. And since the present government's policy is frustrating progress towards that goal, either its policies, or the government itself, must go.

But what I would like most of all of course, is if both could be dispensed with at once, just a few short months from now.

I want to make some final comments on National's future role in the environmental policy. When we look at the political landscape in New Zealand, it's increasingly clear that the Greens are dominating environmental thinking on the Left. In fact, the current Labour Party has very few people who could be regarded as serious environmental thinkers.

Over the next ten years it is my ambition that National becomes the mainstream environmental party, in contrast with the extremism of the Greens. It is vital that we engage in the policy arguments and win them, because that is how we will get sensible environmental policy that allows for sufficient growth and development in this economy. If we take for instance, the Kyoto Protocol, I want to make sure that National is intellectually equipped to win any arguments about the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, should it be ratified. We need to do a thorough job in debating policy related to global warming, as other countries such as the United States are, even if they do not support ratification. If we do not engage in these policy arguments, then those with more extreme and strongly-regulatory anti-growth views will win the argument. In that respect we also have a leadership role to perform over the next ten years.

In my discussions around the country with our core constituencies of people in business and in agriculture, it's clear that their views on the environment are shifting significantly. National has to do more than simply line itself up. We have an obligation to show leadership to the many New Zealanders who want to see politicians grappling with complex trade-offs and policy issues.

When I look around the National Party I see a lot of people who, in their own quiet way, have participated over the years in conserving and upgrading our environment. I do not accept the stereotype of the National Party as disconnected from the environmental concerns of New Zealanders. I want to draw out of the Party the expertise and commitment that's there and add to it in a way that positions us as the leading mainstream environmental Party. This group has played a key role in prodding National along the path and I hope that over this weekend you will take us further.

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