Donald Speech To Employers Federation
"Greens are good for business"
Address to Employers Federation Annual Conference
1.45pm Wednesday 25 August 1999
Rod Donald MP
Green Party Co-Leader
Thank you for the opportunity to present a Green Party perspective to the members of the Employers Federation. I also look forward to answering your questions.
The Green Party is entering this year's election campaign refreshed and ready for action. Since leaving the Alliance in 1997 we have been building our membership, developing our own policies and raising our public profile. Nation-wide opinion polls now put us at just above 2 percent which would entitle us to 3 seats in the next parliament if we can win a constituency seat. We have our sights firmly set on the Coromandel electorate where our Co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons is running a strong campaign and, according to a commissioned poll, is ahead of the incumbent National MP.
In 1990, when we last stood on our own, we won 6.8 percent of the vote nation-wide despite not contesting every seat. That was First Past the Post, this is MMP, but we have set ourselves the same target. When we unveil our party list in a week's time you will see why we believe we can achieve it. This week we will be announcing more two high-profile candidates, one a very successful business person who proves the point that Green Business is a winner.
We obviously don't expect to govern on our own after the election but we do expect to have a reasonable level of influence in the new government. This is a lesson we have learnt from our Green colleagues in Europe who are now represented in most parliaments and are in coalition in 8 governments, including in Germany, France, Italy and Belgium.
Therefore as I present our policies for business to your conference I would remind you that they will all be up for negotiation in a post-election environment. Some issues we feel more strongly about than others and therefore will be promoting very hard. Other issues are already the primary domain of the parties we seek to co-operate with and therefore will not define our campaign.
Let me quickly clarify the two points. The first is who we are prepared to co-operate with. Under no circumstances would we support, either in coalition or on confidence and supply, a National/ACT government. However, in the unlikely event they did win a majority of seats then we could well vote for individual pieces of legislation they propose. On the other hand we are prepared to commit our support to a Labour-led government, at least on confidence and supply. Obviously we would expect a co-operative working relationship in return. We are also prepared to consider a formal coalition which would be, of course, subject to agreement over core policy issues, level of representation in cabinet and process issues such as Cabinet collective responsibility.
Looking at those policies which are not "defining" for the Greens but are nevertheless of significant concern: we support the replacement of the Employment Contracts Act with a more worker and family friendly piece of legislation and which is more geared to small and medium sized enterprises; we support an increase in the minimum wage to a liveable level; we support the single public fund accident insurance model and we support a widening of the factors considered by the Reserve Bank when determining monetary policy.
However, as I have indicated, those are not the core issues the Greens will be campaigning on at this year's election. So what you ask, do the Greens want? We want nothing less than a country where human needs are met without damage to the other species which share the earth with us. A future where each generation, starting with this one, passes on our soil, air and water in a healthier state than we inherit them. A future where human potential is free to flourish, not stunted by overwork or under-employment, by inadequate housing or access to education, by chemical residues in food and water; by unhealthy buildings and work practices; or by insecurity and alienation.
Our vision of the future is where technology is harnessed to extract more value from each unit of resource rather than to extract more and more resources from an already depleted earth. We want Aotearoa-New Zealand to enter the 21st Century on track for a sustainable future and we seek to achieve this goal in partnership with the business sector, communities and citizens.
We are determined that the new government reclaim and exercise its responsibility to look after the long-term interests of all citizens, not just the business sector. We want to encourage responsible and ethical businesses and that means ensuring good businesses are not undercut by competitors who try to externalise their environmental and social costs on to society.
We want a modified set of national accounts to measure economic success in terms of progress towards sustainability and equity. Gross domestic product or gross national product are of limited use as measures of progress as they count only those economic activities where money changes hands. The value of many real human wealth-producing activities, such as child rearing, do not count. What's more, GDP does not discriminate between activities which add to our well-being, such as producing useful goods and services, and those which detract from it, such as crime, pollution, war and accidents.
We want to see social indicators running alongside these which would include, for example, child health, literacy rates, access to housing, in the ratio of income and wealth between highest and lowest earning groups, to provide a better measure of how "well off" we are as a society.
On the environmental front we will seek the introduction of national resource accounts that measure the degradation or restoration of resources such as forests, clean water and energy reserves. We would use these to ensure that economic activities achieve a decrease in the overall rate at which resources are consumed and wasted. You could describe these three measures as the triple bottom line for New Zealand.
We are not promoting this framework for an eco-nation, as we call it, because we think it's a nice idea. The problems facing this planet are vast and complex. They come down to 6 billion people reproducing at an exponential rate and stripping the earth of its biotic capacity to produce life. According to the best scientific advice, every living system on this planet is in decline. What's more, despite the level of exploitation, resources are so poorly distributed that at least 20 percent of the earth's people live below the poverty line.
One hundred years ago, even 50 years ago, it did not seem urgent that we understood the relationship between business and a healthy environment because natural resources seemed unlimited. But now we know we have decimated much of the world's forests and fisheries, in many places we draw more water from the ground than is replaced by rainfall, we lose billions of tons of fertile topsoil into the oceans every year, and we inject toxic substances into our food chains where they are mixing into a suicide cocktail. Conventional economic growth only speeds up this degradation.
Which is why we want to restructure the tax system to make environmental protection good business sense. In essence we want to reduce tax on good things, such as enterprise and effort, and tax bad things, such as pollution, congestion, waste and resource depletion, more. It seems crazy that we tax human effort, via income and company tax, more heavily than natural resources when there is an abundance of people willing to work. By shifting some of the burden from enterprise to resources we would reduce unemployment and at the same time use resources more efficiently.
The first eco-tax on our agenda is a carbon tax on the carbon content of non-renewable fuels such as oil, coal and gas. This represents a concrete step towards the "polluter-pays" principle and would challenge business to find more sustainable ways of succeeding. It would also raise revenue which the government would use for energy efficiency and solar heating programmes as well as reducing income tax on the lowest incomes. We would not, however, rely solely on the carbon tax to meet our greenhouse gas obligations.
Other consumption and resource taxes would encourage the production and purchase of durable, easily repaired, reusable and recyclable goods. A levy on hazardous substances in proportion to their toxicity and persistence would both encourage organic alternatives and fund the clean-up of contaminated sites. Crown resource rentals would be applied to the extraction of precious metals and a rental in return for extracting fish and shellfish from the "marine commons" would also be introduced.
Moving to true cost pricing of roads, particularly by shifting costs from ratepayers to users, will lead to increased use of public transport, walking and cycling and reduce congestion. Those of you from Auckland will know traffic is precisely what is strangling Auckland's prosperity.
The Green Party is serious about getting New Zealanders working again. We believe jobs for the future will come from valuing different things - looking after people better, and looking after the environment better. Taking this course is an act of political leadership, not just a business development strategy.
We intend to encourage a major shift to organic production. We want New Zealand to be internationally recognised as an organic nation by the year 2020 with half of all exported food certified organic by that time. This strategy recognises New Zealand's crucial role as a niche player in the international market place. It trades on our clean green image while, at the same time, giving substance to it and it recognises that the best value added is in the essence of a product rather than how it is processed or packaged. This strategy builds on the success of companies such as Heinz-Watties and Freshco.
The Green Party believes that greater self-reliance is the other key to New Zealand's prosperity. This policy is not only designed to create jobs but also to reduce our dependence on imported goods and to get our massive trade deficit back in the black. Greater self-reliance at the national level leads to stronger communities at a local level and vice versa.
We are already actively supporting local businesses through a 'buy local' campaign which we are running in provincial towns around New Zealand. The message is getting through that supporting local businesses - businesses which are locally owned and staffed and businesses which source their products and services locally - is the best way to keep small towns alive and thriving.
Locally-owned and operated shops create more jobs for every dollar of turnover than chain stores which send their profits out of town. Locally produced goods also generate more jobs than imported products.
The export of New Zealanders jobs has been the single biggest "achievement" of the government's free-trade policies. According to a BERL study, every million dollars worth of consumer goods we import, 20 jobs are lost in New Zealand. On this basis, at least 60,000 jobs have disappeared in the last decade as a result of consumer good imports more than doubling. Many of these jobs were obviously in the manufacturing sector but others were also from the primary sector.
Every time we buy a packet of Arnotts biscuits we are providing jobs for workers in Australia instead of New Zealand. We are exploiting workers in China and other third-world countries and putting New Zealanders out of a job every time we buy imported clothing from shops such as Hallensteins or Glassons. The same goes for discount importers such as The Warehouse.
Cheap imports are very tempting, especially if you are unemployed or on a low income, but the more cheap imports we buy the less chance those who need a real job will ever have of getting one that supports them and their family.
The so-called knowledge economy certainly won't replace the jobs held by former clothing workers in towns such as Reefton or Levin. And we don't think it's OK for New Zealanders to live off the backs of third-world workers in sweat shops just so that we can have cheap goods. The true cost of their often forced labour has to be bought into the equation and one way to do this is through tariffs on imports which level the playing field in favour of responsible employers.
We certainly don't support the removal of existing tariffs while our competitors still have them in place. It made no sense to destroy efficient New Zealand motor vehicle assembly, clothing, textile and footwear industries when those products are now made in countries which protect and subsidise these same industries. We would go further and suggest that additional controls on imports may be necessary for balance of payments purposes as well as to achieve employment growth.
We also support business development and regional assistance initiatives. It makes more sense to invest in the regions of New Zealand in a planned way to encourage employment growth than being forced into ad hoc infrastructure development in Auckland because of migration to the big city. It also makes sense to make good use of the under-utilised public, private and community infrastructure in these small towns.
Nation-wide, business development is also needed to put us on an even footing with Australia in particular where, for example, their government is investing over $700M from July next year in the clothing, textile and footwear industries. Until the New Zealand government matches the commitment of Australia towards the business community, our businesses will continue to be at a significant disadvantage. This is reflected in the large trade deficit between our two countries.
The Green Party is not implacably opposed to foreign investment but we want there to be much more stringent conditions in place before new foreign investment is approved. Most so-called foreign investment has involved the transfer of existing assets and the loss of jobs. New investment would need to demonstrate the creation of new jobs, the introduction of improved technology and respect for the natural environment and society before it would be allowed.
As elected representatives we have an obligation to make the world a better place than we found it. Unfortunately the objectives of the market place are fundamentally different. But maximising profit in the short run and externalising costs on to the rest of society and the environment is simply not sustainable.
Yet too often good people and businesses do bad things because they see no alternative. We see the Greens role in government as balancing our individual desires with what is in the best long-term interests of the whole community. We look beyond tomorrow when we decide what is good policy. We are committed to achieving a sustainable future - living within the planet's capacity to support us and every other species. And we are committed to a just world.
Some people say the Greens are idealists. I say to them that we are the realists and the other parties are the dreamers. Our vision is relevant to the new millennium. In fact we are the only party that is planning to be around for the next one!