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Greens pose tough questions for Labour and Nats

3 June 2007
Greens pose tough questions for Labour and Nats

Green Party Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons has put some hard questions to both the Labour and National parties in her speech to members at the Green's Annual General Meeting in Nelson this morning.

"Without answers to these questions, and others, the Green Party cannot make any decisions about where it might stand in relation to any future government," Ms Fitzsimons said.

The first and second questions were put to both leaders. Firstly, at what level did they plan to cap greenhouse gas emissions and who will the get permits? Secondly, how much bigger are they prepared to allow the dairy industry to grow given its damaging effects on water quality, water allocation and climate change?

"Both Mr Key and Miss Clark have told New Zealand they are serious about climate change and the environment, but so far neither has done much more than just talk. National's policy on climate change is very thin, and Labour's is very 'aspirational' but has been distinctly lacking in any action.

"Climate Change is the biggest looming threat to our economy and our civilisation and at this stage it seems as if neither of the old parties have any policies that will reduce New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions by any meaningful any."

The third question for John Key asks what he intends to do about the people he has labelled as the 'underclass'.

"Will you make a public commitment now that benefits levels will not be cut and the conditions for receiving them will not be made more stringent under any government you lead? Will workers still enjoy the options of seeking collective agreements? Will the minimum wage be frozen at the level you inherit or will it continue to rise? Will we see bulk funding or vouchers introduced in education?" she asked.

The third question to Helen Clark asks how she feels about the growth in inequality since she came to power, and what plans she has to address that.

"In your rush to offer more to middle New Zealand than National's proposed tax cuts, your Labour-led Governments have left some of our most vulnerable citizens behind. The gap between the incomes of those who can work and those who cannot - due to illness, disability or because they're bringing up kids without a partner, has increased since Labour came to power," Ms Fitzsimons said.

"The Greens will be pushing both parties to answer these questions before the election because the public has the right to know," Ms Fitzsimons said.


Embargoed till 9.30am, Sunday, 3 June
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Questions that cannot go unanswered
Speech by Green Party Co-Leader
Jeanette Fitzsimons
3 June 2007
Green Party AGM, Nelson

This weekend we are celebrating the first anniversary of Russel's election as Co-Leader. It's hard to believe it's only been a year as he has cemented himself into the political landscape so thoroughly. He has certainly given the lie to those who said a leader outside Parliament would be ineffective and get no traction in the media. The stories he has broken, such as the investment of Government funds in nuclear weapons, cluster bombs, tobacco and gambling have raised the profile of Green issues.

While we still miss Rod a lot, I know he would be proud of how Russel is doing, of our achievements over this term, and of our rise in the polls.

This year also marks 10 years - 10-and-a-half, actually - since the Greens first entered Parliament in New Zealand and I want to reflect a little on how Parliament, the law, Government policy and politics have changed as a result.

It's hard to remember sometimes that until 1997 there had been no debate in Parliament about the risks of genetic engineering, the urgency of responding to climate change, or the need to measure our economic success differently. The environment was rarely mentioned. The government accounts had never been critiqued from the perspective of sustainability. No-one had ever said we should change our tax system to levy environmental charges, and so reduce tax on work and enterprise. We have not won all those battles but over those 10 years we have shaped the discourse.

We, and the wider movement, stopped GE release in its tracks. Although the law is not as we would like, the hurdle companies have to clear - of both public opinion and the law - to get consent for commercial release is now so high that no GE companies have applied to jump it. But we are keeping a close eye on the industry. The latest consent issued for a Brassica field trial is frustrating, but is not new. There have been a number of them in the past. The key threshold, of general release, has not been crossed.

We have introduced and passed what is still New Zealand's only energy efficiency legislation. We persuaded the Government, after a two year campaign with our friends in the unions, to take back the rail tracks after a disastrous privatisation; we changed the objectives of the transport legislation to incorporate a multi-modal approach and environmental sustainability, and won new funding for cycling and walking facilities; we achieved a clean slate law for minor convictions; pushed the Department of Conservation, with new funding, into working more closely with local communities; got legal aid funded for Environment Court cases; initiated a community intern scheme where business and NGOs have the opportunity to work with and learn about each other. There are many more achievements - far more than will fit in this speech.

Michael Cullen often boasts that funding for public transport increased several fold (he keeps changing just how many fold) under the Labour Government; yet the major boost came under an agreement with us in 2002. It is, of course, still pitifully small, but it's better than it was, although since that agreement ran out the momentum has not been continued.

This term, although Labour chose to work with parties other than us in government, we have carried on putting forward positive solutions and getting them adopted.

Most recently, we have removed the legal defence for bashing kids, and now we are focusing on providing more help to parents about alternative forms of discipline and constructive parenting. We have put forward a far reaching Waste Minimisation Bill which has wide support in the community and local government and we look forward to it passing this year in some form.

We have used questions in the House, public meetings and stunts in Auckland and a long running campaign to persuade the Government to allow the electrification of the Auckland rail system to proceed. Michael Cullen has now just about run out of excuses - he has stopped saying the business case doesn't stack up and that people will never get out of their cars and that plumbers with their van of tools will never use trains. Finally, awareness is growing that those who benefit most from rail services are those who use the roads which then become less congested.

We have consistently led the policy debate on climate change, last year with our publication "Turn Down the Heat" which proposed a number of new ideas that were given consideration by Government, and this year with "Kicking the Carbon Habit". We still don't know the shape of Labour's proposed carbon emissions trading scheme, but they have now taken a much bolder position than was suggested in their discussion documents. They have adopted our position that there must be a price on carbon across the economy; that no sector can be exempt, not even farming; and that milk processors like Fonterra could be the point of obligation rather than farmers themselves.

Not only have we led the debate, we are seen as providing serious solutions. The media now come to us for comment on climate change issues rather than waiting for us to put out a statement.

We are humanising and transforming the workplace, with the two Sues' bills before select committees, giving youth workers equal pay for equal work, and providing for a negotiated process over flexible working hours.

Our two Government spokesperson positions are now bearing fruit, with the solar water heating grant scheme up and running and quality control, training of installers, performance testing of systems, and a website for public information all in place. Suppliers who cannot sell at a price that is cost-effective for the consumer will not be eligible for the subsidy and I believe in time we will see an effect on the very high prices that have turned off so many consumers.

Sue Bradford needs to be congratulated in steering the Buy Kiwi Made programme that we signed up to with Labour through a political environment that seems hostile to even the concept of the programme. However in a couple of months time we will see a very visible media campaign that will acknowledge and support those in this country who make things, the people that are so important yet so invisible in our economy.

We are humanising and transforming prisons. Another Sue bill before select committee will allow mothers to have their babies with them in prison for at least six months to establish the bond that can be a powerful transformative experience for women, preventing them from reoffending. We have an agreement with the Government to set up an independent prison complaints authority and negotiations on the shape of that are continuing. And Nandor is leading a cross-party accord on justice, aimed at supporting more effective methods of dealing with low level offending and reducing the prison population.

While others thump the law'n'order vote catching drum we focus on reducing crime by understanding and dealing with the causes. We have helped shift the ground in the justice debate. Punishment has a very poor record in changing people's lives. There must be consequences for offending, and they must convey society's strong view that offending is not OK, but unless there are early intervention and transformative processes like stronger family bonds, education and work skills training and restorative justice processes that confront the offender with the humanity they have damaged in the victim, the reoffending rate will just continue.

We have established a reputation as a party that is driven by policy and principle and that keeps its word. We cannot be bribed or bought, we don't do trade offs where we vote against our policy on one issue in order to gain another. Some people find that uncomfortable. But I am immensely proud of it. Others will learn to work with it when they have to.

We are consistently the third party in Parliament: consistently well above our nail-biting 5.3% of election 2005, more usually around 7 or 8%, and the only third party within cooee of that 5% threshold. The only other third party that can expect to have more than a seat or two is the Maori Party, with whom we share a strong interest in sustainability and justice.

Unlike other parties we have not suffered splits and splinters and have kept our word both to the voters and to other parties we have worked with. People may or may not like us or agree with us, but they know where we stand.

It is ironic to reflect now on Labour's insistence on working with New Zealand First and United Future rather than with us and the Maori Party which would have given them equal numbers. They were concerned about instability. And which parties have been unstable? United Future and Labour itself. The Government is now totally reliant for its stability on our agreement to abstain.

During this term we have been concerned that the dominance of the two old parties is not allowing the spirit of MMP to flower. We have tried to counter that by working with parties we are not generally closely aligned with, where we have common ground.

For example, Keith and Rodney Hide really enjoyed campaigning together against the Auckland waterfront stadium and for a proper public process. This connection was repeated, with other parties, in the work to repeal the outdated Sedition legislation and to support the human rights of Nick Wang, the Chinese journalist sent out of a press conference when the visiting Chinese delegation demanded it. Sue Bradford and John Key met to discuss the S59 bill and although we could not agree to Key's initial proposal, which would have legalised certain levels of violence against children, both were able to agree to the Prime Minister's compromise wording which directs the police to use common sense.

Sue Kedgley has worked with National and other parties, including Philip Field, to stop the crazy Trans Tasman Therapeutics Bill which would impose huge costs on many common remedies like vitamin C in the interests of the giant pharmaceutical companies. Metiria regularly works with the Maori Party on issues of common interest and we are beginning to discuss climate change with them. Nandor has initiated work with other parties on ways to systematically address miscarriages of justice, following David Bain's release from prison.

The MMP parties have also been working collectively to advance the interests of MMP in Parliament. I suggested to Peter Dunne that we jointly invite the others to discuss behaviour in the House and what could be done about it. The Maori Party and Act accepted and we had several very congenial discussions which led eventually to our writing collectively to the Speaker expressing our support for her to use standing orders to control disruptive, rude and time wasting behaviour, particularly at question time. The Speaker supported our concerns, took them to Standing Orders Committee and has invited us to work with her to design some stronger sanctions for disruptive behaviour.

I expect this relationship of the four MMP parties to continue and to lead to further changes in Parliament to break the stranglehold of the two old parties.

The political landscape is changing and the Greens need to begin work now to determine the conditions on which we will work with other parties after the next election. As we did last time, we will establish a process of discussion around the provinces of the various options. Russel and I will be leading that process, along with the Exec-mandated SPFG - if anyone can remember what that stands for!

The political landscape has indeed changed in the last year, though I believe there are a lot more changes to happen in the next year. The one thing I do know is that there has never been an election in my memory where the polls at mid term were reflected accurately in the election result 18 months later. There is metaphorically still a lot of water to flow under the bridge, though sadly, in a physical sense, with dairy abstraction and climate change, that is no longer the case in Canterbury.

The face of the National Party has changed with the departure of Don Brash. What we don't know is whether the heart and the mind have. While we welcome the distancing from race division, the belated acceptance of climate change and Kyoto, their statements that for now, the nuclear issue is off their agenda, the reduced emphasis on beneficiary bashing, we still don't know what policies sit behind the charming face of their new leader. National's renewed interest in a 90 day trial period for workers starting new jobs may be evidence that the leopard has not changed its spots.


At this stage of the political term, the public is responding to the charm offensive and likes a leader with a more human face than Don. But as the election approaches they, like us, will not be satisfied with content-free politics and will be demanding some firm policies.

An example is National's recent climate change announcement. A bold goal of reducing our emissions to 50% below 1990 levels by 2050. 50 by 50. We welcomed the setting of a long term goal. Long term goals are important so you can measure your progress and the adequacy of your short term goals. The fact that 50 by 50 is actually not fast enough progress to stabilise climate is not that important at this stage. The real problem is that there are no proposals on how we should get there. It's like announcing that your destination is the North Pole, but having no boats or planes or rafts or balloons, and no proposals or timetable to build any before it melts away.

While National is apparently moving to the centre there is one issue where it is still far off on right field. The Resource Management Act, our key piece of environmental legislation, has been under attack by business and the National Party for years.

National supports changing the law to enable big projects to be referred directly to the Environment Court, cutting out most public participation, and then to make sure the process is a giant rubber stamp they want to get rid of Environmental Legal Aid as well. On top of this they want to restrict who can have a say to those directly affected - which sounds reasonable till you realise it is code for shutting out Forest and Bird, Greenpeace, Environmental Defence Society and other advocacy groups.

Shutting communities out of the planning process and paving the planet is not centre-ground politics. It's simply helping your big business mates bulldoze their way over ordinary people.

There are so many questions I would like to ask John Key. Like how he would balance tax cuts with social spending cuts, how much privatisation he is planning, what would be the fate of the current employment and ACC legislation, what he would do to Working for Families, what kind of deal he is prepared to do on the Maori seats and the foreshore and seabed legislation. Our role over the next year and a half is to make sure those questions get answered publicly.

For now, I will confine myself to questions on just three areas for each of the old parties.

John: you say you support a carbon emissions trading scheme and you support Kyoto. But trading doesn't help the climate at all - it is just a way of allowing businesses to make money from reducing their emissions. That's fine, we need incentives, but what we want to know is where you will set the cap on emissions. That is what will determine the price on carbon. That is what will determine the scale of our emissions, and so our degree of compliance with Kyoto. And that is what will determine the size of the bill taxpayers will have to meet in 2012 to pay for the overshoot of our target, and so presumably the size of personal tax cuts you can afford.

Where will you set the cap John, and how will you allocate the permits to trade - will they all go to the current polluters? And what will you do to help those most disadvantaged by higher energy prices - those in cold damp houses, with old cars on the edges of town on low incomes? I'm not too worried about what you will do to protect businesses whose international competitiveness is at risk from carbon pricing - I sense that they will be looked after, as to some extent they should be.

The second question John, is where do you stand on New Zealand's largest primary industry - dairying. It has produced about 20% of the incremental growth in our greenhouse gas emissions since 1990, polluted most of our lowland rivers and streams to the point where they are not safe for swimming, let alone drinking. The growth of dairying is draining our rivers and aquifers in Canterbury and killing our lakes in the central north island. Fonterra has set a goal for the industry of a 4% annual compound growth in milk production. That's 4% more cows, more methane and nitrous oxide, more coliforms and nitrates, each year, with a doubling of all that every 17 years.

John, do you support that goal, and if not, what are you prepared to do to curb the growth of New Zealand's most lucrative industry and also its most polluting? What growth rate do you think is environmentally acceptable, if any?

The third question John is what you intend to do about the people you have labeled as the "underclass". Will you make a public commitment now that benefits levels will not be cut and the conditions for receiving them will not be made more stringent under any government you lead? Will workers still enjoy the options of seeking collective agreements? Will the minimum wage be frozen at the level you inherit or will it continue to rise? Will we see bulk funding or vouchers introduced in education?

I also have three questions for Labour. In thinking about them, I realise the first two are the same as for National. That tells you something. While there are significant differences between National and Labour, they are more similar to each other than either is to us.

Labour is in the mid-term doldrums of a third term government. People are looking at current policy initiatives and saying, "is that all there is?"

Labour will only get out of those doldrums with the fresh winds of imaginative thinking and bold new ideas which capture the public imagination. I really thought they were going to do it last February when Helen announced a goal to be "carbon neutral" and the "first truly sustainable" country. Labour has worked at building pride in our national identity through the arts, sport, profiling innovative businesses, and knowledge of our history. Helen is right that sustainability could become part of that identity. But it can't do it just on words.

Since February they have backed away from the one direction that could save them, by igniting the hope and imagination on which good politics is based. The public are ready for it - numerous surveys, and our own experience out on the climate defence tour, show that awareness of climate change and environment generally is high and rising and people are looking to government to take more of a lead. A carbon trading scheme will attract business and provide some economic fundamentals, but it won't inspire people. Nor will fine words with no content.

Those February words echoed around the country, were welcomed, and taken as a genuinely new direction. Aspiration is a fine thing to have, and a safe word to use, but I have a new word I want to propose - a word many New Zealanders are wanting from their government but see little sign they will get. That word is Action. The aspirational goals have not been backed up by action - or not much. And they were not backed up by the Budget, which failed to link anything other than a few pennies for government departments to improve their carbon footprint, to that grand theme.

It's not too late Helen.

So, Helen, I want to ask you three questions too.

Minister Parker has announced a carbon cap and trade scheme is being developed. Questions in Parliament have established that you are not planning to set the cap at Kyoto levels, so the taxpayer will still have to face a big bill in 2012. If the international cap and trade scheme we are signed up to, namely Kyoto, will not be used to set the cap, what will, and what role will powerful lobby groups and political horse trading play in that decision? We also want to know of course how the permits will be allocated and whether there will be a massive wealth transfer to existing polluters, as there was with the fisheries quota system which seems to be used as the model.

We will also be watching carefully to see who bears the brunt of the higher energy charges and what measures are proposed to help those least able to pay them.

Helen, I have to ask you the dairying question too. Fonterra has announced some very welcome measures to ensure its suppliers comply with their resource consents. Ultimately, if they don't and ignore warnings, Fonterra is prepared to refuse to pick up their milk. That's responsible corporate behaviour and we congratulate them. But the reduction in pollution that will produce will go nowhere near compensating for the methane and water pollution from 4% annual compound growth in milk production. Are you prepared to allow milk production and its unsustainable effects on our country to double in 17 years, and if not, what measures will you use to deter it?

We cannot allow any sacred cows to stand in the way of protecting the climate - neither those with horns nor those with wheels.

The third question Helen, is to ask you how you feel about the growth in inequality since you came to power, and what plans you have to address it.

In your rush to offer more to middle New Zealand than National's proposed tax cuts, your Labour-led Governments have left some of our most vulnerable citizens behind. The gap between the incomes of those who can work and those who cannot - due to illness, disability or because they're bringing up kids without a partner, has increased since Labour came to power. In 1989 a sickness beneficiary, married, with two children received 85% of the average wage. By 1999 that had fallen to 66%. Then Labour took office and what happened? Not only is that family no better off, but the disparity has increased so that, in 2006, they received just 64% of the average wage. The same goes for a single parent raising two kids on the DPB. In '89 they had 79% of the average wage. By 99 that had fallen to 60%. But once again, under this three-term Labour Government things have become worse still, and in 2006 this family had to live on just 58% of the average wage.

What we have witnessed has been a continuation of the disparity created by previous National Governments - and in fact, that disparity continues to grow. Labour has failed to be there for kids growing up in truly dire situations - those whose parents are sick, or dead and unable to provide for them. The Labour Government has not come to the rescue. Why? Why not allow all our families to benefit from economic years of plenty; we all know than if the good times come to an end things will only get worse for those at the very bottom. What will you do about the poverty of our poorest children, Helen, if the people give you another term?

Poverty is closely linked with housing affordability, and there the picture has got worse. According to the Massey University Home Affordability report, buying a house/sustaining a mortgage on current average earnings is almost twice as difficult now as in 1999. Housing is much, much less affordable, and I want to know what Labour intends to do to change that?

Without answers to those questions, and others, the Green Party cannot make any decisions about where it might stand in relation to any future government. The ball is in your courts. We look forward to your decisions.

Ends



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