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Green Party Address in Reply 2008 - Fitzsimons

Saving the banks while the biosphere collapses Jeanette Fitzsimons Green Party Co-Leader Address in Reply 2008 - Parliament 9 December 2008

Mr Speaker,

Congratulations on your election. The Green Party will support you in your efforts to raise the standard of debate and behaviour in this House. It's time.

On behalf of the Greens can I extend a welcome to all new MPs. I hope you succeed in making the difference you came here to make.

To all returning MPs, congratulations on your re-election.

The Greens are proud to be the third largest party in the House and to welcome three new members - a 50 percent increase in our numbers. We look forward to serving on more select committees, asking more questions, and covering more issues. I'm happy to introduce to the House Kevin Hague, who will speak for us on Health alongside Sue Kedgley; Commerce, Small business, Tourism, Biosecurity and other issues; Catherine Delahunty who will do Education, Forestry, Treaty issues, Toxics, Disability issues and others; and Kennedy Graham, who will handle trade, constitutional issues, justice, state services, disarmament and others.

We have no backbenchers in the Greens - new MPs get a raft of portfolios the day they arrive and we know all three of them will make a big contribution to this Parliament.

As the third voice in Parliament, the Greens are neither government nor opposition, but an independent voice for those who have no other voice here: the natural environment, sustainability, children born and children to be born in the future; those who suffer discrimination and poverty and violence; and all the creatures we share this beautiful planet with.

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We are not part of any voting bloc. We have no agreement or defined relationship with the Government, but we do not see ourselves as a professional opposition whose job is just to oppose. We will vote for good legislation, seek to amend bad legislation, and vote against it if we can't amend it sufficiently. We are not opposed to people or parties but we are opposed to poor policies wherever they come from.

We made it clear before the election that we would not give our confidence and supply votes to National, as their stated policies and programmes are too difference from ours, but that if they became the government we would seek to work with them wherever we had common ground. Where that might be is still to be established, but we will be talking before Christmas.

So congratulations again, John, on becoming Prime Minister. It is a time of huge challenge, and you must be feeling the burden of that.

I also want to acknowledge Helen Clark, who has made a big contribution to the history of this country. Helen, your government made a difference to many families who were struggling. You kept us out of an illegal war in Iraq. You embraced sustainability too late in your nine years to deliver on it, but you may have eased that path for the future. We hope you find another role in which to further the causes you believe in.

It is commonplace now to say this is the worst crash of the financial markets since the Great Depression. Last year's panic over inflation and an unsustainable bubble in the housing market has given way to a different panic with nearly a year of economic contraction, lower commodity prices; people losing their savings from collapses in the financial sector; people losing their homes through mortgagee sales; people losing their jobs with a consequent rise in the cost of benefits just as government revenue is falling. The path out of this scary situation will not be quick or easy.

We are in this mess because of greed; because of speculation; because of individuals, corporates and nations living beyond their means. Compulsive consumerism combined with a lack of regulation and safeguards around financial markets have been an explosive mixture. It is unrealistic to expect that the same behaviour will get us out of it. The invisible hand of the free market has shown what it can do, and it is not pretty. The freedom to sell what you don't own and lend what you don't have results in the freedom for others to lose their homes, their jobs and their family security.

What will get us out of it is a return to the values of co-operation, sharing, and sustainability.

The financial markets create no real wealth: they just move around the wealth created by others. They trade in what they call "products" which are really just shadows of the real economy - they have no intrinsic value. It is a zero-sum game: no-one can make money in the financial markets without someone else losing it. That's not a recipe for social progress. But we are in a bind: if there is no credit the modern economy cannot function; yet the more we bail out those who are failing the more we use the savings of the prudent to reward the reckless.

Of course, it is mainly not those who have caused the mess who are suffering from it. Even the high fliers who go bankrupt in such times have very comfortable lives stashed away in trusts. The CEOs of companies announcing mass layoffs still arrive for talks in their individual jets. Those with money do very well out of snapping up forced sales of companies, shares and houses while they are cheap. So for every action we take to try to deal with the mess we must ask, who is paying for this, who is going to benefit, and what kind of behaviour are we encouraging for the future?

We now have as a prime minister a man who has come out of those same financial markets which have overreached themselves and crashed. I guess we are all hoping, John, that after spending that time among them, you have some insights about how the international community could control them and ensure this never happens again.

Most of all we are hoping John that you will not allow this financial mess to disguise the much more fundamental mess which underlies it. Professor Peter Barrett, one of our most distinguished scientists put it very clearly in his article in The Dominion Post on Friday: "Markets recover in a few years; climate takes millennia".

Our society is now so divorced from its relationship with the natural world that many people cannot see that our economy and our markets are totally reliant on the environment which provides resources and absorbs wastes.

You cannot balance environmental responsibilities and economic opportunities, as the speech from the throne suggests. The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment. If the parent company collapses, so does the subsidiary.

We note with disappointment that the only mention of the environment, even obliquely, in the speech was as an obstacle to development, requiring the weakening of the RMA.

We are hoping this will not become known as the generation that saved the banks and let the biosphere collapse.

It is not just climate; demand for oil, gas, freshwater, food and some minerals is outstripping supply, causing price rises which themselves contributed to financial collapses, at least for home owners who could no longer afford to pay their mortgage as well as fill their tank and their pantry.

The world economy has grown so fast that environmental processes are breaking down. Climate change tells us we are producing wastes faster than the environment can absorb them; the state of some of our rivers tells us we are expanding irrigation faster than they can supply water, and pouring waste into them faster than they can clean it. The oil price trend since 2003 tells us that up till August the world economy was making demands at a rate the earth could not meet. That tells us that unless we make radical changes in the way we live and do business, more growth will mean more pollution, more resource shortages and rising prices, more inflation and eventually more ecological collapse.

There is a very direct relationship between oil prices and the recession. Oil prices of over $150/bbl stretched household budgets and pushed people further into debt. World recession has seen oil drop to a four year low because demand is not growing. Static or slightly falling demand can be met from the old onshore fields like in Saudi Arabia where it costs $5-10 bbl to extract and process. Growing demand requires tapping the new fields, in deep water or Arctic conditions, where it costs $70-90 bbl. The surest sign that the recession is not yet easing is that fuel prices are still so low. If demand starts growing again they will be back up to $150, but lack of investment capital now will mean a lack of refining capacity by then, with prices reflecting real scarcity.

This will show up in food prices, and in the inability of our markets to afford our exports.

Nations are right now in the middle of life-or-death negotiations in Poland on whether to act collectively to preserve a liveable climate for all of the world, or to hold out for our individual short term interests, and so all go down together. Because we are all on the same ship.

It is sad and embarrassing that New Zealand is not on the side of those arguing for clear binding targets for all OECD countries, and financial instruments to enable developing countries to cut their emissions too. Today we learn that the New Zealand delegation has been arguing for taking food production out of the Kyoto protocol. So let's get an exemption for 50 percent of our greenhouse emissions before we start trying to reduce them at all. The climate will respond to what we put into the atmosphere. The climate doesn't care whether we are food producers or not. After all, the world needs motor cars, but Japan is not arguing for steel and coal and vehicle production to be outside the climate change agreement. We have to be realistic here: all emissions change the climate, and all emissions must come into the agreement.

It is significant that NZ has sent to the talks its minister of trade negotiations. Trade negotiations are never about the collective good, they are always about individual country interests. They stall for years over trivia. They demand special exemptions for demanding political constituencies. But trade negotiations have time. The climate does not. We cannot afford to let Kyoto become another Doha.

A few months ago we passed landmark climate change legislation - many years too late, which for the first time put a price on carbon emissions. It was a weak economic signal to clean up. But at least it was a signal.

Part way through, Government got cold feet and delayed the entry of transport another two years. Labour, when you look at fuel prices now, don't you wish you had held your nerve on transport? Next January would have been the perfect time to bring transport in as originally planned, while fuel prices are so low, and keep up the momentum towards lower fuel consumption.

The ETS has many loopholes and exemptions and delays. It gives big industry a right to pollute the atmosphere scot free up to 90 percent of what it does now. It gave our biggest emitter, the dairy industry, a five year holiday and a 90 percent exemption after that. But it was a start.

Now no-one can figure out what is happening, and that's a recipe for loss of business confidence and loss of investment.

The Prime Minister tells us he will "put the ETS on hold". How? Energy and transport and agriculture have no obligations for ages anyway. But for forestry the ETS is already in force, and foresters who planted over winter 2008 are legally entitled to credits in January 2009. Is this government of property rights and business telling them there won't be any?

You can't put legislation on hold by administrative fiat. It can only be done by an amendment to the legislation. Is there a bill coming before the House during this urgency session to wipe out forestry credits and obligations? We hope not: because it would usher in a new season of clear felling forests and converting to dairying with no penalty and I would have to drag out Nick Smith's old speeches blaming the government week after week for creating just that situation in 2007. It would also see an enraged Roger Dickie climbing the steps of Parliament, and this time I would be fully supporting him.

So perhaps putting the legislation on hold is just a figure of speech, and nothing will actually happen. But business doesn't know, and business is worried. We already have a number of investors having second thoughts about investing in New Zealand.

Now we have Act, the party that believes climate science is wrong and human-induced climate change is a myth, demanding a carbon tax. Why, if carbon emissions do no harm? Obviously, because it would delay for another year, and that would be one more year business could offload the costs of its emissions on to the taxpayer.

The most bizarre suggestion of all, which has New Zealand becoming the laughing stock of the world climate community, is that many hundreds of the world's most prestigious climate scientists, the National Academies of Science of all major countries, and the peer-reviewed research they have examined might be wrong; and that a small group of New Zealand politicians are just the ones to find out the truth. Rodney, this is the most desperate delaying tactic I have ever seen.

John, you can't afford to waste public funds educating Rodney on 20 year old science; and you can't afford to let him pull your government into fantasy land. It's time to take serious action to reduce our emissions, and to join the global effort to reach an effective agreement.

The Government is proposing an "infrastructure investment package" to stimulate the economy. The Greens proposed such a package early in the election campaign, before other parties did. But the packages are not the same.

It is vital that the infrastructure we build will prepare us for the very different world of oil depletion, climate change and resource scarcity. We need more and better public transport, not new motorways. We need more affordable housing built to high standards of energy efficiency and close to public transport and workplaces. We need the Greens' $1 billion home insulation programme this government wants to axe, because it is the fastest source of new jobs, will reduce people's power bills and will keep people with asthma out of hospital. If you want value for health dollars, John, insulate cold damp houses. The Greens would be happy to work with you on this.

I now hand over for the rest of our time to my Co-Leader Dr Russel Norman.


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