Labour’s Alternative to National’s Environmental Destruction
Hon David Parker
Deputy Leader of the New Zealand Labour Party
Spokesperson for Finance
SPEECH: 7pm, 5 May 2014, Cashmere Club, Christchurch
You can have both - Labour’s Alternative to National’s Destructive Environmental Policies
Good evening. Thank you all for coming along tonight.
I begin by acknowledging your local MP and our Conservation spokesperson Ruth Dyson, and Moana Mackey our Environment and Climate Change spokesperson as well as our leader David Cunliffe. Thank you all for encouraging me to speak on environment and the economy, as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, to emphasise the importance we attach to these issues.
It’s not a choice.
You can have both.
I reject the view that New Zealanders can have either a clean environment or a decent job, but not both.
New Zealanders have a strong environmental ethic.
This is largely down to the many thousands of good, hardworking, caring New Zealanders, right across this land, and across the generations. They laid down our National Parks, saved Manapōuri, and protected our forests.
We acknowledge their vision, their leadership and their values.
The environment matters. People come and people go, but the land remains.
What we do in our time here affects not just us now, but our children and theirs, here and abroad. We are their guardians.
Election year is an occasion to judge the performance of government.
Under the current government we are experiencing the degradation of our physical environment and the pollution of our democracy. Crony capitalism is spoiling New Zealand.
Left to their own devices, National will change the character of New Zealand and the lives we live on these islands.
Already they have dishonoured our international reputation and undermined our clean and green image.
Our “100% pure” branding was defensible when we as a country were pushing forward on climate change, air, and water. Not perfectly, but determined to do better.
Under National our hard-won international reputation has been systematically unpicked by both their actions and their rhetoric.
National tries to disguise the decisions they take. They make a big noise about some small issues that attract public attention. They do not front or debate what they are actually doing; they simply try to implement it.
They give in to special pleading while allowing public amenities to be polluted.
They have skewed the extent of private property rights, by pretending that private rights should override public property rights like clean water and atmosphere.
They allow public rivers and estuaries to be spoiled by nutrient and faecal contaminants from agriculture.
They cause the immense economic value of our public rivers to be privatised. About 60% of New Zealand’s electricity comes from hydro, made by public rivers. It is the lowest cost electricity to produce in the world, but is priced much higher. National thinks it proper to privatise this multi-billion dollar value of our public rivers. And make no mistake, this is what National has done – privatised the value of our rivers. And New Zealanders pay through excessive electricity bills. Another case where the government acts in the interest of the few at the cost of the many.
On climate change, they have done virtually nothing positive. They have allowed rorts of the Emissions Trading Scheme, have exempted our largest source of growing greenhouse gas emissions (agriculture), have undermined forestry, and have promoted coal.
In renewable electricity, they have coat-tailed on the initiatives of the last Labour government, and claimed the credit.
And on top of all this, they are undermining the environmental integrity of the Resource Management Act (or RMA).
National would have New Zealanders believe they can either have a clean environment or a decent job, but not both.
They should get out more. To quote Herman Daly, a senior economist at the World Bank “the economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment”.
I am here tonight to give voice to the Labour Party’s deep concerns about what is happening under National, and to propose that economic growth and environmental protection can easily co-exist in a modern economy, under Labour.
We will repeal the changes the National government proposes making to Part 2 of the RMA. Labour will improve processes under the RMA without gutting its principles.
National intends to dismantle the environmental protections of the RMA.
This is environmental vandalism and cannot be permitted.
New Zealanders fought to protect the wonderful environmental heritage of which we are guardians, and will fight again if necessary.
For example, the quality of our freshwater has been deteriorating at speed with the intensification of agriculture, particularly dairy farming.
Relaxing the RMA’s environmental principles is not the answer, it is the problem.
The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment in a series of reports and submissions to Parliament has told the truth about what is occurring.
But the Government ignores the evidence and pretends our rivers will not be overwhelmed.
The Parliamentary Commissioner has provided a wake-up call for all of us, but particularly for pastoral agriculture.
The dairy industry recognises it needs to take more responsibility – the costs of pollution need to be internalised to the industry, not borne by the public.
We need to push sustainable solutions.
As it stands the results of this government’s badly conceived policies will be disastrous and in some cases irreversible, with some lowland rivers and estuaries becoming drains.
As time goes by, that invaluable feeling of New Zealanders that our kiwi identity is framed by the natural environment will wither.
National’s attitude is typified by Judith Collins’ comments in the last day - “I don’t like wetlands, they’re swamps. Go and find someone who actually cares because I don’t”.
I am here because I do care.
Under National large irrigation schemes subsidised by the government will increase dairy farm effluent and nutrient pollution of our rivers. And without adequate safeguards, the capacity of Kiwis to enjoy the great outdoors will be damaged.
The most important river to most Kiwis is the one they live closest to. Māori express it well when they describe their local river and their local mountain when they introduce themselves. The vast majority of us want our local river to be clean. We deserve that. It is not too much to ask.
And if all our local rivers are clean, then all of New Zealand’s rivers will be clean.
It’s not anti-growth or anti-business to expect the dairy industry to clean up after itself. It is unfair that our public rivers are being spoiled. It is only fair that we stop this, and New Zealanders agree.
Techniques are available. The nutrient management tool known as OVERSEER is progress, though it can be further improved for different types of soil and nutrients.
National’s unsustainable drive to intensify agriculture without adequate environmental rules involves the privatisation of freshwater by stealth.
It is being facilitated by the taxpayer-subsidised “Irrigation Acceleration Fund” paid for from the proceeds of sale of the energy SOEs we all used to own.
The result is a massive transfer of money and natural resource wealth from the public to a small subset of the private sector.
The policies being pursued are not what New Zealanders want. Kiwis value clean rivers, and under Labour they will get them.
Labour rejects the idea inherent in National’s policies that growth cannot be achieved unless the environment is allowed to deteriorate.
We agree with the Pure Advantage Group that increased efficiency, profitability and new commercial opportunities will accrue from better environment practice.
We agree with those who say there are opportunities in clean energy.
New Zealand has fantastic capability in hydro, wind and geothermal; in resource planning, and project management; in grid development, and the integration of high levels of renewables.
We have the largely untapped potential to substitute Kiwi-made and designed componentry and know-how not just for New Zealand’s substantial renewable generation mix, but to sell to others as well.
We have some great science coming out of Scion to add value to our forest estate instead of exporting raw logs. We need more LanzaTechs.
We will all be richer if we push towards a more efficient transport fleet. Our imported oil bill will go down, and our climate changing emissions will reduce. Add in fuel substitution using renewable electricity and some biofuels, and it gets even better.
You seldom hear the government talk about these opportunities because they have no ambition to achieve them. They push irrigation subsidies instead, promise an oil-bonanza, and bully and scapegoat any rational dissent.
We’ve had Gerry Brownlee criticising the messenger when protests against mining in National Parks drew tens of thousands. And the last Minister of Conservation threatening not to approve annual licence fees for Fish & Game, because that organisation was doing its job of protecting the environment and voicing public criticisms on walking access and water quality. And the Minister for Primary Industries criticising the Horizons regional council for doing its job. And Stephen Joyce, whose routine attack is to accuse those who want to protect their environment of being anti-development or anti-jobs.
There is a clear pattern.
New Zealand does not have to sacrifice our environment in order to have a prosperous economy.
New Zealand became the first country in the world to have a statute that provided for sustainable management of natural and physical resources.
The Resource Management Act was designed to ensure that New Zealand’s economic development took place within environmental bottom lines – that development would be within the capacity of the natural environment to sustain.
That aim is being subverted by the government, although National falsely pretends otherwise.
Since Parliament enacted the RMA 23 years ago, New Zealand has overall become wealthier, not poorer (although inequalities have grown and are growing wider). Yet National defines the RMA as an irritant which ought to be neutered.
To make matters much worse, the National government is now attacking the concept of sustainability that underpins the Act.
Maximum exploitation of the environment’s natural resources is this government’s recipe for economic growth, regardless of sustainability.
National has been saying since 2008 that its goal is to increase the ratio of exports to GDP to 40% by 2025. It’s now 2014 and exports have remained static as a percentage of GDP (at about 33% now and projected to drop to 30%). Exports have further narrowed towards increasing reliance on dairy exports – in particular milk powder sales to China.
So in the face of their failure, the government now says it will get more economic value of our freshwater resources through more subsidised irrigation water, more cows, more fertiliser.
In the absence of effective environmental standards, this will also mean more dairy effluent and nutrient run-off into our rivers and lakes, and into our estuaries and inshore fisheries.
This is the same government which foolishly pushed Solid Energy, and encouraged others, into more mining of coal and lignite.
Yet National says, dishonestly, that it is at the same time protecting the healthy functioning of ecosystems, and advancing biodiversity, and transitioning to a low-emissions economy.
That’s right. They pretend we will transition to a low-emissions economy at the same time as they deliberately increase our emissions.
Let me be clear by saying there is much in RMA processes that can be improved.
More National Policy Statements and Environmental Standards are needed.
It is also obvious that more standardisation of plans would help simplify administration of the Act and reduce compliance costs.
Inadequate attention been given to controlling the ever-increasing complexity and expense of Environment Court processes.
These practices and processes can and should be improved.
But the principles of the RMA remain as important as when it was passed.
As I said earlier, weakening the environmental protections of the Act is not the answer, it is the problem. It confuses process with principle.
National’s potential coalition partner, ACT, would go even further and completely neuter the RMA. ACT favours leaving it to common law rights, a prescription that would allow twenty storey office blocks in residential areas. May be we should have a geographic exemption to the RMA for Remuera, and see how long it is before they decide the RMA is indeed important!
The National government says that its proposals to change the RMA will simply reform processes and cut through red tape. They say the environment will still be protected. And that the country will get richer.
That would be fantastic, if it were true, but it is not true.
The government’s approach does much more than cut through red tape. They also slash through the environmental protections in the Act.
Fundamentally, they take a short-term view of development at the expense of long-term sustainability.
They are based on the same worn-out economic ideas and dogmas that drove Muldoon and Think Big over 30 years ago.
Only two years ago the National government published a “Building Natural Resources” report in support of its so-called Business Growth Agenda.
Behind the PR spin, the report in effect says that the primary value the government sees in New Zealand’s environment is the value to be had from exploiting resources.
Talk about ‘back-to-the-future’. And they have the temerity to suggest that it’s the environmentalists who live in the past.
Forget about the value that we as New Zealanders place on our natural environment – on the bush, rivers, lakes and mountains that make New Zealand such a wonderful place to call home.
Ecological integrity and environmental bottom lines are to be sacrificed, under National. And when they are gone, it will be the near impossible for fair-minded New Zealanders, our NGOs, and local Councils to stem the further degradation of our environment.
In 2013 the government passed amendments to the RMA that started to chip away at the Act’s central concept of “sustainability”. Those amendments emphasised short-term economic benefits at the expense of environmental effects.
Now it wants to go even further by re-writing the Acts core decision-making principles.
Sections 6 and 7 in Part 2 of the RMA elaborate what is meant by “sustainable management”. By rewriting these sections, National will systematically weaken the benefits that sustainable management offers the natural environment and the quality of New Zealanders’ lives.
Development will be favoured at all costs, at any price, even when it damages and undermines the environment.
The economic property rights of land-owners will be elevated over and above the rights of the public to enjoy a clean natural environment. The public property rights to clean air and water will be undermined, and the pollution of both will be facilitated.
Sir Geoffrey Palmer has analysed these changes.
He says they “have been justified by reference to assumptions and perceptions that are not supported by empirical evidence or analysis. They are unnecessary and will inevitably lead to uncertainty and increased costs. They were objected to by 99% of public submitters. It is simply not enough to arrogantly dismiss those concerns – from experts, councils, iwi, individuals, and environmental organisations – as “howls of outrage from some of those that have made a nice industry from the very complexity we are seeking to address”, as the Government has done.”
However, the concerns expressed are real, from real New Zealanders, including successful business men and women. Because what the government is doing is not in the best interest of our environment, of our economy, or of New Zealand.
But it does massively advantage a small and wealthy elite, which comes as no real surprise.
The government’s fundamental changes to the RMA will tilt the Act away from sustainable development back to a Muldoon Think Big philosophy.
As well as rewriting the RMA, the government is changing for the worse the way we manage freshwater – our streams, rivers and lakes.
We already have serious over-allocation of water in many catchments. And the Ministry for the Environment reports that 45% of monitored popular freshwater swimming spots are graded “poor” (24%) or “very poor” (21%). We must do much better, and soon.
National inherited from Labour a draft National Policy Statement (or NPS) for freshwater management produced by a tribunal chaired by New Zealand’s former Chief Planning Judge Sheppard. Put simply, it provided that clean rivers would not be allowed to get dirty, and that dirty rivers ought to be cleaned up over a generation.
The Sheppard NPS recognised that increased intensity of land use (for example, more irrigation, more nutrient and more cows) increases the pollution of our rivers unless good practice is applied. To prevent this outcome, the NPS said increases in land use intensity should be controlled by plans and consent conditions.
Even then, better practice will be required, elsewhere and on-farm as well, in order to avoid a cumulatively worse outcome.
National spiked the Sheppard NPS. They marshalled interested parties – including well-intentioned farmers and environmental NGOs – into participating in what was heralded as a “collaborative” process through the Land and Water Forum.
Years of delay were followed by betrayal when the government flouted the agreed outcome of the forum, and served up instead a recipe for more pollution by way of make-believe standards that will not halt the decline in freshwater quality.
The “minimum bottom lines” and “overall water quality” now being put in place will enable agricultural businesses to dump more pollution in water bodies.
To make it worse, the minimum bottom lines that the government has in mind stop just short of levels that are toxic to aquatic life.
They are well and truly below the levels that would allow for our rivers to be clean enough for us to be able to swim, fish and gather food – without worrying about whether those classic Kiwi activities are going to make us and our families sick.
In practice a few rivers will be clean. The clean ones will generally be large ones that rise in National Parks where there is no agriculture and which are so large they flush all the pollution out to sea. You generally can’t swim safely in these big rivers because they are too swift.
Many of the others – often lowland streams and rivers – will be treated as effluent drains.
National is willing to let things get worse when already dogs can no longer be left to run alongside some of our rivers because the pollution-derived algae are so toxic they kill dogs.
I find this shocking, and Labour intends to do something about it.
Labour in government will repeal obnoxious changes to the Resource Management Act passed by National.
And Labour is committed to making all New Zealand’s natural waters (streams, rivers, lakes and beaches) swimmable, fishable and safe for food gathering. We want jobs and employment and we want them to be sustainable in the long-term interests of future generations.
We need the dairy industry for our economic well-being. It was Labour that ushered in Fonterra, and delivered the China FTA. And it will be Labour that takes the dairy industry to the next level of prosperity and sustainability.
New Zealand’s incomparable environmental heritage should not be sacrificed on the altar of short-term unsustainable gain.
We want Kiwi values restored and an end to the environmental wrecking ball policies of the National led Government.
I want to list some specific actions Labour will take in government.
Freshwater: We will introduce a revised NPS on water quality based on the principles of the Sheppard version. That means:
Clean rivers and lakes will not be allowed to get dirty;
Dirty rivers and lakes will be cleaned up over a generation; and
Increases in intensity of land use will be controlled rather than permitted as of right.
Improvements to farm practice will be required to offset the additional environmental burden caused by more livestock, fertiliser and effluent.
Estuaries: Labour will introduce an NPS to protect our estuaries. Our estuaries are the some of the rarest ecosystems in New Zealand. They are an important filter protecting our inshore fishery from more pollution. They provide crucial whitebait and fish spawning, and juvenile fish habitat. They are a breeding and feeding haven for many birds, and places of recreation.
Too many of our estuaries are in decline.
Labour’s NPS for estuaries will control siltation and eutrophication, and stop the insipient reclamation of the edges of estuaries. It could, for example, require all tidal gates to be reviewed and require the removal of those which are inappropriate.
NPS on affordable housing: Labour will use the RMA to facilitate affordable housing, through an NPS that makes its consenting easier. This is one part of our comprehensive plan to bring forward more affordable housing and to stop the decline in home ownership. This is a way in which the RMA can be used appropriately to achieve improved societal outcomes without ruining the environment.
NPS on indigenous biodiversity: We will promulgate the long overdue NPS on indigenous biodiversity.
Process improvements to the RMA: Labour will restore the reputation of the RMA by standardising and simplifying rules which can and should be standardised across different local and regional authorities. We will improve regional plan making processes. There are some lessons to be learned from the Environment Canterbury plan revision process, which uses experts to hear submissions on new plan proposals.
Improvements to Environment Court processes: We will simplify and shorten the increasingly complex and expensive RMA processes to reduce both delay and cost. We will achieve this not by removing people’s rights to participate, but by working with the Environment Court to encourage shorter hearings and limit expensive and complex opinion expert evidence.
Rebalancing DOC: The Department of Conservation should be focused on the areas it is meant to protect, and provide effective services to regional New Zealand. This focus has been lost under the National government. Labour will rebalance DOC towards the regions, employing staff with local knowledge and expertise.
Conservation Boards and DOC advocacy: We will empower Conservation Boards, rather than undermine their plans as this government has. We will not block DOC from advocating for the environment.
Marine reserves: Labour will improve the process for formation of marine reserves and other marine protected areas. We will give consideration to use of an independent decision maker, as applies to applications for water conservation orders.
Tenure review: We will call a halt to tenure review and instead enforce the terms of Crown pastoral leases, especially around lakes where landscape and access values are paramount.
Climate change: Labour will stop the current rorting of the emissions trading scheme. National has allowed New Zealand units to be allocated to emitters and for those units to be sold for a profit and be substituted by lower cost Russian hot air. This undermines both New Zealand’s international reputation and the environmental effectiveness of the Emissions Trading Scheme.
We will restrict the import of low value overseas units, and we will include agriculture in the ETS. We have also announced substantial policies to help the forestry industry extract more value to grow our economy.
We will improve the efficiency of our transport fleet, and fund the government’s share of Auckland rail loop.
Lignite: The environmental case against large-scale lignite use is overwhelming, because of the high volume of greenhouse gases produced. Labour will not invest Crown capital (including through an SOE) into lignite development, or subsidise any such development.
Oil and gas: The world is on a transition to renewable fuels. It will take decades to complete and petroleum will continue to have an important role during that time. So Labour will not ban the development of oil and gas, but nor will we subsidise the industry. And we will insist on high environmental standards and stringent safeguards, to world best practice, especially in our Exclusive Economic Zone.
We will adopt the robust Norwegian regulatory model, which includes physical audits rather than just paper-based systems. We will require an effective rapid response capability if an incident occurs, including capping devices being readily available. And we will ensure that substantial parent companies are liable for any mistakes (rather than a smaller New Zealand subsidiary).
We will enable broader public participation in EEZ planning decisions in a similar manner to the RMA. If planning permission is granted allowing deep sea drilling in an area, we do not intend there to be notified consents for each hole drilled. Our robust regulatory model will then govern any physical work carried out.
Water pricing: NZ Power will take out of power prices the value of the public water which powers hydroelectricity, and return this to the public via lower power bills.
Labour’s 2011 election policy remains. We are committed to encouraging the fair and efficient use of our precious public freshwater resource through a resource rental on large irrigation takes, which comprise the major consumptive use of freshwater. Irrigation accounts for nearly 80% of freshwater consumption. All domestic uses of water, which on a per capita basis are small - whether in cities or rural areas – will be exempt from the resource rental.
Interested parties will be consulted on the appropriate manner and level of charging. All the revenue raised within a region will go back into the region, to fund water management and delivery, new storage and irrigation schemes, safe rural drinking water supplies, and projects such as the restoration of degraded waterways.
This is how irrigation infrastructure ought to be paid for – rather than by selling SOEs or through taxpayer funded subsidies.
National would have you believe that the progressive environmental actions I have discussed cannot be done if you want higher incomes.
This is rubbish.
Growth rates under Labour since World War II have been 0.7% per annum higher than under National.
Labour will run budget surpluses – as we did nine times in a row when last in government.
Our policies will grow the economy and the higher paid jobs a better economy will provide. Labour will increase the depth of our capital markets through making KiwiSaver universal.
We will encourage that capital to be invested in productive investment, rather than land speculation, through our pro-growth tax reform including our capital gains tax (excluding the family home).
We will encourage investment in innovation and higher value exports through tax incentives, including a research and development tax credit and accelerated depreciation allowances for new plant.
We will reform monetary policy to align the interests of the Reserve Bank with our export sector, and help them help us overcome New Zealand’s external deficit and higher interest rates than our competitors pay.
These are the policies of green growth.
We will also stop the privatisation of our rivers and reduce electricity bills to Kiwi families and businesses.
Our tax and employment policies will ensure the benefits of growth are fairly shared, rather than be increasingly concentrated in the hand of the few.
Labour’s plan for economic growth does not require or allow the despoiling of the environment.
As I have said, National would have New Zealanders believe they can either have a clean environment or a decent job, but not both.
Underneath their rhetoric, the strategy of the government has been clear. It’s simple to summarise: pursue short-term economic growth at the expense of the quality of our environment.
For them, this willingness to compromise the environment is preferable to alternatives which would drive economic progress without despoiling the environment.
They avoid measures that do not serve the interests of the wealthiest.
They’ve always done that on tax policy, like giving income tax cuts to the wealthiest or refusing to tax capital gains.
But now they have extended their traditional modus operandi to the environment. They refuse to properly and responsibly regulate. They refuse to fairly charge for the private use of public resources. They deliberately ignore the economic benefits of efficiency of use, the minimisation of waste and pollution, and the business opportunities and productivity growth which arise from doing these things efficiently and well.
I reject the view that New Zealanders can have either a clean environment or a decent job, but not both.
I grew up swimming in our rivers, most of which are not as clean today. Even now in summer, when I find a clean river or stream deep enough to have a swim in, it’s hard to keep me out of it. I am passionate about the environment and about prosperity.
National tends to govern for today and for the few, whereas Labour tends to govern for today and tomorrow, and for all New Zealanders..
Our policies will enable our economy to move to higher value jobs and more valuable exports, while improving and protecting what most of us value in our natural environment.
This is one of those rare instances, where with intelligent policy and inclusive government, we really can have our cake, and eat it too.