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Connecting a fairer society and a sustainable one

Connecting the dots between a fairer society and a sustainable one
Jeanette Fitzsimons MP, Green Party Co-Leader, Sunday, 5 June 2005
Audio version at http://www.greens.org.nz/audio/050605conference-jf-16bps.mp3

He mihi nui ki a matariki. Kia koutou. Kia tatou katoa.

Greetings for the season of Matariki, the Maori New Year, which commences with the first new moon after the constellation of Matariki, or the Pleiades, appears. It is appropriate that we have a Green Party conference just before the season of Matariki, which is a time for reflecting on what has gone on in the past and for making a fresh start looking towards the future. It's a time to reflect on the world around us, on our relationship with the earth and all its beings. And just as the season of Matariki is about making a fresh start, offering new hope, the Greens this year are hoping to offer New Zealanders a fresh start infused with the hope of Green ideas.

Today is also World Environment Day, so called in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit, when it did seem the nations of the world were finally prepared to work together to address the serious threats to our survival as a species - or at least as a so-called civilisation. So it's appropriate that today we connect the dots between our efforts for a fairer society and our efforts for a sustainable one.

The baby-boomer generation, which stretches roughly from me to Rod, has accepted all the gifts from the past, and stolen shamelessly from the future. Its meanness is now affecting the quality of life of most New Zealanders.

We heard yesterday about how our generation accepted the low-cost education paid for by our parents' taxes, and used it to get good incomes. But when we entered the income bracket that paid significant taxes, some of us weren't prepared to give this advantage to the next generation.

So we now have today's students borrowing to pay for the rent, the food, the power, the fees, the books, knowing this will haunt them for years. And we also have a decade's worth of young graduates wondering if they will ever earn enough to get their heads above water. Ironically, we also now have the baby-boomer would-be grandparents seeing their longed-for grandchildren put off indefinitely, and watching their thirty-something children cope with debt.

It's time we dealt to that, and yesterday's policy launch set out how.

Some now suggest we should take the same approach to roads.

We inherited a roading system fully paid up from road user charges and petrol tax in the past. More roads per capita in fact than most developed countries. But it isn't enough for some, so the proposal now is to borrow so we can build more roads faster.

There's nothing wrong with a system of paying for roads out of future income, because they will be used by future people. But there's a lot wrong with converting a pay as you go system to a debt-laden system so the boomer generation escapes paying both ways.

Half of all the oil used in the world so far has been used in my lifetime. And now it seems that we are about to reach the half-way point of all the oil the world will ever have. Some are saying that point could occur within the next term of Parliament. This fact is being disguised by those who want to sell more oil and bigger cars and build more roads. There is a refusal to plan for a future with less oil, which is just around the corner, because it might affect our consumption today. How many people, as they consider their vote this year, will be voting for the government they want to manage the arrival of peak oil?

Every drop of oil we have wasted, in vehicles that take 15 litres of petrol to drive 100 km when 5 litres is enough, in single occupant cars commuting alongside half-empty buses and trains, in military aircraft that use as much fuel taking off as a small car does in a year, is oil stolen from our grandchildren.

We inherited a country with abundant clean water. Mountain and bush-fed rivers and streams. Rich in life. Plenty for all our needs, you would think.

As recently as 14 years ago, when the RMA was written, there was no specific provision made for the allocation of water because it wasn't considered then that we would ever have a problem with water shortages.

But even this abundance we have managed to overuse. Consents to take water have normally been issued for 35 years. Issued for cheap-to-build, wasteful-to-run border dyke irrigation because the water is free and limitless. Now we have Environment Canterbury declaring red zones where underground water is already fully allocated. ECan has 100 applications to take ground water that have been parked and may be declined because the Council is not confident the water is sustainable.

Rivers like the Ashburton have also been over-allocated. There is less water to dilute pollutants, temperatures rise and kill fish, the water table drops and wetlands dry out.

Yet the demand to further intensify farming, especially dairying, remains intense. Single farms these days may run thousands, rather than hundreds, of cows, and seek consents to extract hundreds of litres of water a second to irrigate pasture. They are an economic powerhouse whose demands are very difficult for an elected council to resist.

Situated in the red zone is Synlait, total assets $80m, a new dairy company is aiming to increase its milk production two-and-a-half times to 100 million litres a year. The two things that make this possible are water and nitrogen.

Yesterday, we heard a startling figure from Walt Reid, principal author of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. He talked about the loss of ecosystem support services, including disruption of the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles which underpin all life. You may have missed it because it is such a staggering figure, but he said that half of all the nitrogen fertiliser ever spread on the planet has been applied since 1985. As much in the last 20 years as in the whole of human and agricultural history before that.

Where does it go? Well, a small part of it is incorporated into the protein in the farm products we eat. The rest of it goes into the water system, either directly as fertiliser runs off the fields in a good rain, or indirectly as, to be blunt, cow shit. Along with the phosphate fertiliser that has been used in NZ for longer, it feeds algal blooms in rivers and lakes, and eventually runs out to sea and contributes to the dead zones you heard Walt describe.

We have a New Zealand version of that big, startling global number on nitrogen. Last year, our own Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment produced his excellent report "Growing for Good" which examines the sustainability of New Zealand farming. The number he gave us is that nationwide, our use of nitrogen fertilisers has increased by 160 percent in just 6 years.

We know the Rotorua lakes are dying. Nutrients from farming, as well as sewage discharges, are causing serious algal blooms most summers. Lake Taupo has declining water quality, and the next big scary number is that the nitrogen just reaching the lake today after seeping through the ground water into rivers is forty-years-old. It was applied to the land forty years ago. Even if we stopped polluting today, there is another forty years' worth already in the ground water that will reach the lake, making things much worse before they can get better.

We've done a reasonable job over the years in stopping the outfall pipes from industry. Most point source discharges, as they are called, now have to go through trade wastes to the sewer, or be treated on site. There are exceptions - the appalling discharges from PPCS meat works which discharges blood-red waste into the sea south of here and has just been given a 35-year consent to discharge increased waste volumes into the Ohinemuri River near Paeroa. But there is much less of that than there used to be.

It has been replaced by dispersed runoff from intensive land-use over whole catchments. That runoff contains not just nitrogen and phosphorus but also heavy bacterial loads from cows and sheep, silt from erosion and road works, heavy metals, greases and asbestos from vehicles running from roads into urban storm water, and leaking septic tanks or even direct sewage discharges.

This is now the main threat to rivers, and largely responsible for the next big scary number - our publicly-owned research institute NIWA tells us that 95 percent of our lowland rivers and streams do not meet water quality standards - not just for drinking, but even for swimming! That's right - it's no longer safe for our kids to swim in a river unless you take them way up into the mountains. Someone stole their clean water, their birthright.

Does that make you angry? It makes me angry. Angry that my new grandson will be deprived of so many things I grew up taking for granted. Angry that so little is being done to turn the tide. Angry that the media, and especially the political media, always think a few Iraqi immigrants are more dangerous to New Zealand than our water quality and who Tom Cruise is in love with this week is more important than how dirty our rivers are.

And angry that the warnings which are now over thirty-years-old have been ignored by decision-makers.

Yes, it is now more than thirty years since the Club of Rome published its computer models showing that if present trends in population, consumption, energy use and pollution continue, all those systems will crash some time between now and the middle of this century. That analysis was a major source of inspiration to the Values Party, our earlier incarnation. And while others have pooh-poohed it, the Millennium Ecosystem shows we are still on track and accelerating towards that awful future.

That doesn't stop the PR spin. We call ourselves 100% pure, and we can't even swim safely in our rivers.

The threats to our rivers don't stop with pollution. Our insatiable demand for energy has harnessed rivers that will never flow free again. When they came after our largest braided river, the Waitaki, the outcry was huge. More than 6,000 submissions on the applications for resource consent; marches, public meetings, music and dance specially composed. Many of you helped with that campaign, and I know it made a difference. The lower Waitaki still flows free, thanks, in some part, to you - us.

But the Wairau is at risk from a similar canal development that would take 69 percent of the median flow for 40km. There is a scheme planned for the Mokau. There is an application to lift the water conservation order on the Gowan.

All other parties in Parliament apart from the Greens and Labour want to flood Card Creek and put the Arnold into a canal. The Ministry of Economic Development has identified 60 rivers where they believe hydro developments are likely in the next 20 years. Why? So we can leave our towel rails on 24/7.

Astonishingly, this hydro destruction of rivers is avidly supported by United Future, supposedly the party that supports outdoor recreation. That's just a mystery to me.

It's not an accident that the Greens have focussed a lot on energy in this campaign. Our demands for energy are damaging our way of life, whether it is a new coal-fired plant showering Whangarei with air pollution, giant transmission lines towering over the people of the Waikato, or hydro plants stealing our wild rivers.

Water has been part of New Zealand holidays for most people all our lives. Rivers are for kayaking, for swimming, for eeling, for trout fishing, for bird watching, for walking alongside, and for just contemplating. They are for the black stilt, the giant kokopu, the blue duck. They restore our spirits, put us in touch with who we are as Kiwis, connect us with nature.

Tangata whenua share our disgust at what is happening to our waters. Their traditional food basket, their deepest ancestral connections, often known as the tears of their ancestors, are being used as sewers. They are struggling to be heard in resource consent hearings for discharges and abstractions, with few resources to carry out their kaitiakitanga.

We need to get angry, because anger motivates us to act. Even faced with the gigantic problems outlined in the Millennium Assessment, the authors tell us it is possible to reverse most of the damage - there are policies that would work - but they are not in place today.

As Ronald Wright says in A Short History of Progress, "The future of everything we have accomplished since our intelligence evolved will depend on the wisdom of our actions over the next few years."

The Office of the Auditor General has just published a report on how regional councils are managing their water resources. They found the systems to look after our rivers are not in place. Councils tend to issue discharge consents with good conditions but not check whether those conditions are complied with. They know how much water they have allowed to be taken but not how much is actually taken. Self-monitoring and reporting by consent holders is not checked. The information is just not there for sustainable management.

There is ground-breaking work to do here. Protecting water quality is overwhelmingly a local issue, and the Greens are good at that. It is detailed and painstaking, like fencing and planting the edges of rivers and streams; helping all farms do nutrient budgets so they don't put on more fertiliser than the vegetation can use; reforesting headwaters of erosion-prone catchments to slow down the water that washes off the nutrients; checking out all septic tanks and fixing the ones that are leaking; and standing up to the companies that still think rivers are sewers for their convenience.

There are some harder decisions too. Some areas just can't take any more dairy conversions. Some land use will have to change. We have to question the scale of an industry whose appetite for water cannot be satisfied sustainably.

Even an institution as conservative as the Auditor-General is saying that the time has come for policies to restrict intensive land use, limit fertiliser application, require nutrient budgeting and riparian planting.

So, we have the 1300 authors of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment agreeing with us; the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment agreeing with us; the Auditor General agreeing with us. But not the Government, which still prefers only voluntary measures. We will have to change that.

The Greens are prepared to challenge our sacred cows, and say "enough". If we have to choose between clean rivers and further expansion of the dairy industry, let's choose water.

We have chosen to campaign on water this year because every region has its own water issue. A river near you is suffering from threatened hydro development, or excess cow manure and fertiliser, or sewage, or grease and heavy metals from road runoff, or siltation from erosion. And in your community are people who care about that, and who will support you for wanting to clean it up.

To help you, Mojo has been working for some time to prepare a summary of key issues for water, and a regional list of threatened water bodies. We've got copies here for you today. Let's get our communities on side to "keep it clean and party vote Green".

In some ways, this weekend should be a cause for celebration. While we are holding this Green Party Conference in Christchurch, there is another gathering of progressive-minded, forward-looking Kiwis taking place in Wellington, marking the 30th anniversary of the United Women's Convention. In fact, some members of the Green Party are there, instead of here, which illustrates the commonality and overlap between our two movements.

Two groups of New Zealanders have made great strides in the last thirty years: women and Maori. Thirty years ago, sexism was rife in New Zealand society, the public service, and in our corridors of power. Helen Clark told me in the eighties about her experiences in Parliament - being sneered at, ignored, and belittled even by members of her own party.

The old boy's club has slowly gone out of business, as women have been able to achieve great things. We have broken down barriers to entry in the workforce. We have gained recognition, through the paid parental scheme, that the work we do in raising our children is valued by, and valuable to, society. Equal employment opportunity and anti-discrimination legislation has slowly worked away at the sexism that was prevalent in the workplace and in employment practices. Slowly, it has been made easier for abused women to leave their violent partners. The gap between what men and women earn for doing the same work has narrowed, though it still exists. And leaders, such as our Prime Minister, Governor General, and Chief Justice, have shown the new generation of young women that they can achieve anything they want.

But there is still so much more to achieve in the battle for gender equality. Women are still in the minority in the corridors of power. We make up only about a quarter of MPs in Parliament and a quarter of the Ministers around the Cabinet table.

A recent report in the Herald pointed out that women are still very much in the minority when it comes to the influential positions in our society: mayors, councillors, CEOs of businesses, heads of government departments or health boards, and school principals.

No, the battle for gender equality is still to be won. And we need to think about this battle in terms of the choice in front of us that Rod outlined yesterday: we are choosing as a nation between a Green/Labour government committed to breaking down the barriers of female participation and a NZ First/National government which writes off such issues as "political correctness gone mad".

Women understand this. While amongst male voters the Green/Labour and National/NZ First combinations are fairly evenly matched, among women voters our progressive forces are well out in front in most opinion polls. Women understand that Winston and Don want to take us back to the 1970s, when decisions were made in smoke-filled rooms in gentlemen's clubs and women were only useful to look after the kids. For evidence of that, we only have to look at these two parties' line-ups.

A National/NZ First Cabinet might be made up of the top fifteen members of National's list and the top five ranked members of NZ First's. How many women would that see in a Brash/Peters Cabinet, where the real decisions are made on how New Zealand is run? Two. That's right. Two out of twenty. Only Katherine Rich and Judith Collins would make it. And we know how Don Brash treats his women MPs. The two women MPs in his Caucus to stand up to his mean-spirited, uncaring attacks on Maori and solo Mums - Georgina Te Heuheu and Katherine Rich - were sidelined, silenced, and demoted. There is now not a single woman on the National front bench, and we can be sure there wouldn't be a single woman in charge of a powerful Ministry in a Brash/Peters administration.

Women understand this. Women understand that, in Don Brash and Winston Peters' vision of New Zealand, their only rightful place is in the kitchen.

As with women, so with Maori. Maori have achieved so much in the past 30 years. It is no exaggeration to call it a Maori renaissance, with a flourishing of Maori culture and language, and a marked improvement in social statistics, whether in terms of the percentage of Maori leaving high school with a qualification, the percentage unemployed, the percentage catching preventable diseases, or the percentage achieving tertiary education qualifications. Slowly, but surely, there has been a restoration of mana.

This has been in no small part a result of policies aimed at healing the wounds of our past, of righting the wrongs of the land confiscations and the Treaty breaches that mar our history as a nation, and of policies aimed at ensuring Maori can achieve everything they aspire to achieve, on their own terms, and in their own communities, determining their own courses.

That is why a National/NZ First government, which seeks to reverse all those good policies that have led to the Maori renaissance, and make everyone the same, would be so dangerous for New Zealand. "We're all New Zealanders" is shorthand for "I want Maori to be just like Pakeha in every respect". The policies that Don Brash proposed last year at Orewa were explicitly assimilationist. They sought to make Maori into brown Pakeha, to deny that the state has any role in protecting and promoting Maori culture, and to deny that the Government has any responsibility to try to continue to work away at the social statistics which show Maori not doing as well as they can and they ought to. The assimilationist policies of the reactionary right parallel those of the Australian Government's treatment of its aboriginal peoples. And we know where that leads: to premature death, to poverty, to despair, and to societal breakdown. We don't want any part of that. We can't afford to have any part of that.

Yes, just as Don wishes to take us back to a world when women were consigned to the kitchen, he also wants to take us back to a New Zealand which denies our history as a bicultural nation, and which seeks to fit every kind of New Zealander, whether Maori or Pakeha or Asian or Iraqi, into a single mould. Don wishes everyone to be like him, to adopt some mythical monolithic Pakeha culture and outlook on the world, and deny their cultural heritage.

Which is why a vote for the Greens is so important if you believe it's a good thing that women and Maori have made great strides in the last few decades in New Zealand. Just as union leaders told this conference yesterday that the Greens are pivotal to the rights of workers being protected and championed, we must make it clear to women and Maori that, to thwart those who seek to marginalise you or keep you down, you need to vote for the Greens. We must explain to such voters that they cannot afford a National/NZ First Government, and that they cannot afford a Labour-led government held hostage by NZ First. And the only way to avoid those things, and those gains being threatened, is to vote for the Greens.

Our message to Maori voters will be clear this election. You can get two MPs for the price of one this year. You can vote for the candidate you prefer with your electorate vote and for the Greens with your party vote.

We know that Maori appreciate the great work Metiria did on the foreshore and seabed. They applaud our protection of the natural environment. They want our waterways and our food basket cleaned up. Our stand on GE is respected and applauded. That's why our message in the Maori electorates will be this. Get a strong, staunch local MP by giving your electorate vote to the best candidate, but ensure that you have a party that will stand up for the Maori renaissance in government with Labour by giving your party vote to the Greens. We are confident this message will resonate. Maori voters are very politically savvy, and split their votes in much greater numbers than non-Maori.

So to the political choices this year. In Labour, we have a competent government which has moved us away from the extremism of the nineties, though a bit bereft of new ideas for its third term. There's a feeling that something is missing, that perhaps after 6 years they have dozed off at the wheel. They didn't cause the intergenerational theft, but they aren't really fixing it, either.

It's a bit lacking in courage, too - as Rod said yesterday, Helen Clark responded positively when we urged her to tell the Japanese Prime Minister of our shock and disgust at their proposals to slaughter Humpback and Fin whales as well as doubling the harvest of Minkes.

But we have since learned that she wimped out, just as she did on human rights with China, and left it to underlings who would be left to take the flak of Japanese displeasure.

National under Brash has supplanted Act as the party wanting to finish the business of Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson. Known mainly for being anti-tax, anti-Treaty, anti-solo mums, anti-Kyoto - not sure what for, exactly.

Friday's poll has focussed attention on the two big parties again. But this is not how it works. Under MMP, the election won't be decided by whether National or Labour gets more votes. Rather it will be whether Labour plus the Greens gets more than National plus whatever unstable support it can put together.

Those who vote for NZ First or United Future are saying they don't care whether the next government is led by Labour or National. Those two support parties are not prepared to say which major party they will support. I think many voters will remember how betrayed they felt in 1996 when they thought they had voted to get rid of National and found their vote had been used by Winston to do exactly the opposite. I simply don't believe there is a large part of the electorate who don't care which party leads this time.

And a vote for Labour leaves you just as unsure of how it will be used. We know that a big majority of Labour voters say they would prefer Labour to work with the Greens. Have they thought about what kind of country we would have if instead Labour had to accommodate the ugly politics of exclusion, targeting of vulnerable minorities, and covert racism? Or alternatively the policies of asset sales, the demolition of the Department of Conservation, the damming of our best fishing and kayaking rivers for hydro power and a greatly expanded use of coal? When you vote Green you know what you are voting for. There will be no hidden surprises. You are voting for a principled negotiation of Green and Labour policies which will restore some intergenerational fairness, prepare for the coming threats of peak oil and climate change, and give us back rivers we can swim in.

ENDS

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