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Speech: Clark launches Labour's Green policy

Labour
2000 web siteToday Labour is launching its green agenda for government.

There is enormous significance in the Leader of the Labour Party launching these policies. Labour is signalling that this green agenda is not a marginal set of policies, but, rather, it's central to our vision for building a new New Zealand in the 21st century.

On many occasions I have outlined that vision and its components. It sees New Zealand as a dynamic economy producing more sophisticated goods and services. It looks to higher living standards across the board, and better public services. And it sees New Zealanders enjoying a quality of life, environmentally and culturally which is unparalleled anywhere else in the world. It is the environmental aspect of our vision for New Zealand which I want to address today.

All New Zealanders are proud of our unique natural heritage. It rightly stands prominently alongside Maori culture and I'm afraid the number of sheep in defining the images non-New Zealanders have of this country. There would not be a serious effort to market New Zealand as a tourist destination which did not capitalise on the stunning scenery which our mountains, forests, lakes, rivers and coastline offer.

But that natural heritage is so easily diminished by short-sighted action and ineffective protection.

We want to ensure that New Zealander's clean, green image actually lives up to the rhetoric about it.

Native Species and Habitat

Our native species and habitat are under serious threat. Labour's top priorities for conservation are protection of threatened species and the natural habitat, weed and pest control, and conservation advocacy by the Department of Conservation.

We want to work closely with the non government organisations and the private sector on their initiatives for species and habitat protection - and encourage many more. We commend the Royal Forest and Bird Society on their current campaign to save the Kiwi.

I myself grew up on a farm adjacent to the forest park on the Pirongia mountain range. Even in the 1950s, almost fifty years ago, that forest was largely silent. That memory still haunts me. Most of us have no idea what the New Zealand bush once sounded like until we go to places like Kapiti Island where the predators have been largely eradicated.

We have a huge task ahead of us to reclaim even parts of our forests for the indigenous species which once called them home.

Indigenous Forests

Overall Labour sees our indigenous forests as among the most precious parts of our natural heritage. No person of any sensitivity who enters them can fail to be awed by them. The opportunity to experience them lures visitors in very large numbers to this country. Around the world indigenous forests are under very great pressure as short term commercial interests predominate over longer term heritage concerns.

There is no reason in this first world nation of ours why such short term interests should predominate here. I am determined that this generation of New Zealanders should pass onto its children and to their children the indigenous forest heritage we retain in public hands.

That is the reason why we have taken a strong and unequivocal stand on the future of the West Coast forests. Where they have significant conservation values, they will be added to the conservation estate for permanent protection. Their heritage value to this country and future generations is far greater than their value as a production resource for what would almost certainly be low grade processing. National's large scale beech scheme, together with its determination to lift the ban on the export of native woodchips and logs would make that inevitable.

National may be content to go down in history as environmental vandals. Labour is not. There is no place in our vision for New Zealand in the 21st century as a country logging public forests with significant heritage values.

Of course we recognise that some West Coast hopes were dashed by this decision, but it is better to be told the truth before the election than after it. Quiet discussion has begun with those who wish to engage constructively on the economic development package for the West Coast which, I am confident, offers a more sustainable future than continued logging ever did.

Recreation

One of the great pleasures of being a New Zealander has been the access we have had to our back-country and alpine areas.

The former Lands and Survey Department and the Forest Service maintained a large network of huts and tracks, and they were supplemented by the huts of alpine and tramping clubs.

But, perhaps because of funding constraints on DOC, the huts and tracks in areas which are not of central interest to tourists seem to be a very low priority.

Many people have expressed concern to me about the extent to which much loved huts and tracks are falling into disrepair - and are unlikely to be replaced.

As one who personally has a great love of the New Zealand back country and alpine areas, I intend to make sure that an urgent review is conducted of the state of the hut and track infrastructure with a view to restoring it to a state which gives safe access to those areas.

The Marine Environment

Better management of New Zealand's marine environment looms large in Labour's priorities.

We are keen to see the extension of marine reserves, covering a representative cross section of the New Zealand coastline.

The aim is to have reserves covering ten per cent of the coastline by 2010.

Our coastal areas are of enormous scientific interest with many yet to be adequately documented and new species still being identified.

We also want more effective protection for marine mammals - like the Hector's Dolphin and the Hooker's Sealion. As a matter of interest, the Hector's Dolphin sanctuary at Banks Peninsula was first gazetted when I was Minister of Conservation. Next year in government I want to see what we can do to extend protection of the Hector's Dolphin off the Manukau Coast.

This week a major conference was held in Wellington to look at ways to exploit the resources in New Zealand's exclusive economic zone and its extension out to the edge of the continental shelf.

Outside the conference, environmental groups drew attention to the risks of exploitation to the ocean ecosystem.

Labour believes that policy issues affecting the oceans need to be brought together in a more holistic approach to marine management. We are proposing an Oceans Commission to oversee that.

Putting in place a coherent policy and management and legal framework for the oceans under New Zealand's control is one of the biggest policy challenges of the next few years.

The Resource Management Act

Labour continues to strongly support the Act because it provides for an integrated, participatory, and transparent approach to planning.

That is not to say that its implementation has been universally successful.

The loudest complaints come from business, but just as numerous are the grievances of the community-based organisations, residential and environmental, who through their small-time fundraising try to fight the might of corporations intent on development to which communities are resistant.

The Act is controversial because the developments which are applied for under it are often controversial. It is important that there continue to be open and fair procedures for dealing with those issues.

Labour will split the Resource Management Amendment Bill currently before Parliament, and seek to pass only those amendments which are widely agreed and urgently required.

The government's other amendments to the RMA are far-reaching and alter the balance of the legislation away from community interests. That we cannot support.

What we will do is give priority to developing the series of national policy statements which were always envisaged as underpinning the Act, and which, with the exception of the coastal statement, have never appeared.

We will also look at whether further amendments to the Act are needed to improve access to and involvement in RMA processes and to streamline processes where that does not threaten good environmental outcomes.

There are four other areas covered in the green agenda's key points:

Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency issues were covered by Pete Hodgson in the energy policy release last Friday.

Biosecurity

In biosecurity we are calling for greater vigilance at our borders against exotic pests.

Recent media reports suggest that while MAF is able to do a good job with material brought in by passengers or through the mail, trade goods are a problem.

While the Biosecurity Minister disputes the utility of requiring used cars to be decontaminated before they leave for New Zealand, both the Forest Owners Association and the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society have called for that to be done.

It is our policy to require decontamination of used vehicle and machinery imports before they leave for New Zealand. This policy was prepared prior to the Minister's claims yesterday that his officials' report discredits the proposal, but he has yet to release the report.

We would take some persuading to drop the idea, given the significant incidence of pests like gypsy moth coming in on used cars.

The policy proposes moving to polluter pays for the cost of waste and pollution control. It also again offers assistance with the costs of sewerage schemes to small communities whose current sewerage arrangements pose significant health risks.

Genetic modification issues.

Some months ago we issued a substantial discussion paper on GM issues and invited feedback. The revised paper is being released here today.

It commits Labour to:
· clear labelling of food to identify where it contains genetically modified ingredients
· a Royal Commission on genetic modification issues with wide terms of reference
· a moratorium on commercial planting of genetically modified crops until the Royal Commission has reported.

Conclusion

I have touched on just some of the highlights of the detailed policies being released today.

These policies will give the environment a very high profile in the Labour Government 's work. Indeed all government policy will be subjected to formal environmental assessments.

Needless to say in today's tight budgets there is not a lot of room for big spending - and this is not a big spending policy. $65 million over three years has been allocated to it.

That means that all government spending in the area will need to be carefully scrutinised to minimise waste and low priority spending, and to redirect resources to high priority areas.

But in the end these policies are about far more than money.

They are about direction and vision.

How much of our natural heritage will we pass on to our children?

Will we stand up for the species and habitats which cannot defend themselves?

Will we put in place clear rules for the holistic management of our oceans?

Will we maintain a balanced approach to resource management and not tilt the rules to advantage corporates over communities?

Labour's position on all these issues is clear.

We will provide leadership on environmental and conservation issues and work in partnership with all those who share our commitment.

Our record in the Fourth Labour Government on these issues was strong. Our aim as the Fifth Labour Government is to improve on that - and I know we can.

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