What Have The Greens Done?
Last week's stand by the Green MPs in rejecting the vote on the HSNO bill and re-stating our opposition to the lifting of the GE moratorium in 2003 has generated much heated debate in media and political circles. However, the heat has often produced more smoke than light. This brief question-and-answer paper should correct some of the more extreme misconceptions being aired.
The Greens broke their "no surprises" agreement with the Government by abstaining on the HSNO vote.
The Green Party has always, explicitly and unambiguously stated its complete opposition to the commercial release of GE organisms. In what way did our abstention on the bill come as a "surprise" to the Government? In October 2001, Jeanette Fitzsimons personally informed Helen Clark that the Green Party "couldn't support a Government that took New Zealand further down the GE road." That message was spelled out again a month later in Jeanette's speech to the EcoPolitics conference in Christchurch. Again in April, when the HSNO bill was reported back to Parliament, Jeanette sent a public message that the Government was "on a collision course" with us over its intention to end the moratorium in October, 2003. Finally, the Government was officially told one hour before the vote that the Green MPs would be abstaining.
The Greens utter opposition to GE in any form would condemn New Zealand agriculture to the dark ages.
The Green Party is not opposed to gene technology, per se. We recognise that it can play a useful role in medical and agricultural research and in the production of new medicines. What we do say is "keep it in the lab." The current process of moving genes between species produces organisms that are unstable and unpredictable. There will be unplanned and unwanted side effects which means they should be kept out of our food and our environment. Because of this safety aspect, and the potential for accidental "spread," we would also prefer that field trials were not undertaken. However, field trials have occurred permissible in this country for years and we acknowledge that in the foreseeable future we do not have the power to stop them. The one, single aspect of GE that we cannot accept is the release of GE crops, animals and micro-organisms into the environment. As for New Zealand being "left behind," a moratorium on new GE release has been in place in the EU for the last three years.
The GE ultimatum proves the Greens are a single-issue party.
Opposition to commercial GE release is but one of a full raft of policies promoted by the Green Party, ranging from education to justice to trade to environment and beyond. The point is that progress towards all our other policies can be achieved through negotiation and debate. Release of GE into our environment is not open to negotiation: after October 2003 the lid comes off Pandora's Box and no amount of negotiation and debate can ever put the contents back inside.
The Greens have little support and their attempt to dictate GE policy is anti-democratic and a classic example of the "tail wagging the dog."
Polls over the last year have consistently shown well over half of respondents are either opposed to GE being taken out of the lab or want further proof of its safety. The Greens are the only political party that represents their views. Furthermore, we are happy to put that support to the ultimate test by campaigning on this issue at the general election. Rather than being "anti-democratic" we want the voters to decide this issue. If we get enough support, we believe Labour will be forced to listen to us.
The Green stand is a strategy for Italian-style "perpetual election."
The Greens in Parliament have consistently proved a stable and reliable supporter of the Labour Government. The Green Party gave a commitment to support this Government for its term on confidence and supply and it should be remembered that we have honoured that commitment. But for that Green support, this Government would not have had the numbers to continue. We have now signalled that in the next turn of Parliament our support is conditional on the Government maintaining the moratorium on GE release. If this brands us as a perpetual "force of instability" then che sera sera. (Incidentally, despite numerous reshufflings of coalition partners, Italy has had only 19 elections since the Second World War, New Zealand has had 18.)
The Greens have no right to bring down the Government.
Any political party has a duty to uphold its core principles, otherwise it betrays those principles, its members and the voters who put it into Parliament. It is illogical to argue that the Greens are somehow "unique" in threatening to vote against the Government. National and ACT and sometimes New Zealand First vote regularly against the Government on confidence and supply, precisely because their core principles are at variance with those of Labour. If they were to find themselves in a position to force an early election, would they then have "no right" to vote the Government down? If the Government were to fall, it would be because Labour was not willing to shift its "bottom line" over the lifting of the moratorium.
The Government is promising the "strictest regime in the world" when the moratorium is lifted, so there's no problem.
As widespread contamination overseas shows, it is impossible to contain GE crops once they are planted. Seed and pollen will spread and replicate - that's their job. You can have a "strict regime" for contained field tests, but release is irreversible and completely uncontained. The Royal Commission identified many urgent questions that need to be answered before commercial release goes ahead - including horizontal gene transfer (the non-sexual swapping of genes) and effects on soils and on native species. There is no way the research programme that the Government has put in place can be done properly by October 2003.