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Simon Bridges: Speech to Fieldays on climate change

Simon Bridges - Leader of the Opposition

15 June 2018

Thank you for having me here.

My time as Economic Development Minister underlined for me the importance of the primary sector and regional New Zealand.

There can be a lot of talk from politicians about diversification away from primary industries – moving away from farming into areas like IT and finance.

Promoting other industries is good, but we must remember that you are the engine room of the economy.

Other industries could take lessons from how the primary sector operates.

It is full of people that are outward looking and back themselves.

People who constantly innovate so they can be the best at what they do.

People who care about conservation and the environment.

People who know that if you put in the hard yards, you reap the rewards.

These values are at the heart of what it means to be a New Zealander.

These attitudes are part of the reason why New Zealand is filled with fantastic opportunities right now.

They’re why in the two years before the last election, 10,000 new jobs were being created every month.

Why the average annual income increased by $13,000 between 2008 and 2017 – twice the rate of inflation.

They’re why the proportion of Kiwis in work is the third highest in the developed world.

New Zealand is a successful, prosperous, confident country, filled with people and businesses that can foot it with the best in the world.

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I know that as Leader of the Opposition I’m supposed to complain about everything.

But that’s not my style.

I genuinely believe we are doing really well as a country, although we can always do better.

This success wasn’t always the case – ten years ago 30,000 people were leaving New Zealand every year to move to Australia, because that’s where the opportunities were.

As of last year there are more coming the other way.

We’ve made great progress – but we must keep pushing hard to ensure all Kiwis enjoy the gains.

I’m concerned that more and more of the Ardern-Peters Government’s policies will put those opportunities at risk.

While they talk a lot about good intentions, the policies like higher fuel taxes and a reversion to 1970s style pay agreements are anti-growth. They’ll shut down opportunities for our young people to get a job, and they’ll increase costs on New Zealand families.

Almost half of businesses believe the economy will deteriorate over the next six months. Half. That’s not an environment where people are hiring another employee or investing for growth.

I talked about values earlier, and there is one other value that I believe makes New Zealand so special.

And that’s our belief in doing the right thing, in giving a helping hand to those in need.

People like the single parent who needs taxpayer support to help raise their children.

And the worker who has just been laid-off and is trying but struggling to find their next job.

Most recently we’ve seen it in the primary sector too, with the M Bovis outbreak.

This is an extremely challenging time for farmers and the rural community.

These are animals that you have bred and cared for, and now your livelihoods are on the line.

I’m not going to dwell on how we got where we are, but I am pleased that farmers finally have certainty.

I feel for those who are having their stock culled – truly taking one for the team.

For National’s part, we’re not going to play politics with this issue. That’s my commitment to you.

Our primary sector team of MPs, led by Nathan Guy, is here to support farming families and to advocate for you through this painful process.

I want to talk about more than just M Bovis today.

You know we always have to look ahead – to next year and the year after, to how you want your farm to be operating in five years’ time, and perhaps even to how your children and grandchildren could take over one day.

Just like you, much of what I do is driven by what I want for my kids when they grow up.

My wife Natalie and I have three amazing young children. Emlyn who is six, Harry who’s four, and little Jemima who is a whole six months old.

As a politician sometimes there are sacrifices you make, and that includes spending less time with your children.

But it also means that when I go to Parliament, I’m driven by the desire to make New Zealand an even better place for all our kids when they grow up.

One of the big long-term challenges we face is protecting the environment.

In a hundred years, when we’re all long gone, I want to be sure our grandchildren will be living in a New Zealand that is still the envy of the world because of its stunning natural environment as well as its prosperity.

I want them to live in a pristine New Zealand, where they can take their children to swim at Piha, or tramp in the Waitakere ranges like I did growing up.

I want our grandchildren to know that all of us have done what we can to protect the environment - our most precious natural resource.

I doubt there are any New Zealanders who don’t think like this.

We can have the best sportspeople, the finest scholars, and the most innovative entrepreneurs.

We can have a world class economy and the prosperity to pay for education, hospitals, infrastructure, social services and care for our vulnerable.

But none of that is worthwhile if we haven’t protected the natural environment as well.

I’ve charged our environmental MPs, led by Scott Simpson, Todd Muller, Sarah Dowie and Erica Stanford with the task of modernising our approach to environmental issues. To run a ruler over our policies. To ask the questions and to push us harder.

And that is also true of climate change.

I know there might be some surprises about a National leader talking about climate change at Fieldays.

But I know this sector is committed to conservation and environmental sustainability.

You don’t get enough credit for that.

We’re not doing anyone any favours if we can’t have a robust conversation about the steps we need to take to protect our natural resources.

New Zealand feeds the world. We produce more food per person than any other OECD country.

Unfortunately being a large food producer means our per capita emissions are high.

But we are also the most efficient food producers. The world needs to be fed and we know how to do it well.

But simply being the most efficient isn’t enough. We need to do more to reduce emissions further. I know that, and every farmer I talk to knows that too.

Despite our small individual profile of one fifth of one per cent of global emissions, our size does not abdicate us from our responsibility.

National recognises the importance to New Zealanders – present and future – of addressing climate change, and playing our part in the global response.

We’ve made good progress recently, but we need to do more.

We implemented the world-leading Emissions Trading Scheme, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining economic productivity.

When I was Transport Minister I implemented a significant package of measures to increase electric vehicle usage, so that we use fewer fossil fuels.

New Zealand is a great place for electric vehicles, because almost 90 per cent of our electricity is renewable. That’s the fourth highest in the developed world.

There are now as many new electric vehicles in New Zealand each year as there have been in Australia, ever.

I want us to do more of that.

Since 2008 our greenhouse gas emissions fell, despite a growing economy and growing population.

That is a big deal. In the previous 18 years emissions increased by 25 per cent.

But we now need to wrestle them down further.

I am proud to have been a part of the previous National Government which signed New Zealand up to the Paris agreement with its ambitious challenge of reducing our emissions to 30 per cent less than 2005 levels by 2030.

I was there in Paris as the Associate Minister for Climate Change Issues and I stand by our commitment.

It will be challenging to achieve, and will require an adjustment to our economy. But we must do so.

In order to drive long-lasting change, broad and enduring political support is needed for New Zealand’s climate change framework – on the institutional arrangements we put in place to support a reduction in emissions.

Both the Productivity Commission and Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment were clear about this.

Stability is required to allow people and businesses to plan and respond.

It requires a consensus between the major political parties on the overall framework through which we address climate change issues.

Today I have written to the Prime Minister and James Shaw, offering to work with them to establish an independent, non-political Climate Change Commission.

I want to work with the Government to make meaningful bi-partisan progress on climate change.

This will be challenging. It will require compromises on both sides.

It will require us all to listen and engage respectfully.

But the prize is too great not to try, and the consequences on our economy, jobs and the environment are too serious if we don’t do so responsibly.

The Climate Change Commission would support New Zealand’s emission reductions by both advising the Government on carbon budgets, and holding the Government to account by publishing progress reports on emissions.

The Commission would be advisory only, with the Government of the day taking final decisions on both targets and policy responses.

There are a number of details I want to work through with the Government before the Commission is launched – such as ensuring the Commission has appropriate consideration for economic impacts as well as environmental, and that the process for appointments to the Commission is also bipartisan.

But I am confident that we can work constructively together to establish an enduring non-political framework for all future governments when considering climate change issues.

But just getting the institutional arrangements right isn’t going to be enough – the question is the steps we take to reduce emissions over time.

And of course there will be ongoing debate about what is and isn’t appropriate. It is right there will be different views on this.

National want practical, sensible solutions, not extreme policies that could damage the economy and unnecessarily drive up costs for Kiwi households.

National has five principles that we believe should guide New Zealand in moving to a low carbon economy, to help ensure economic growth and improving the environment go hand in hand.

Firstly, I want New Zealand to take a pragmatic, science-based approach to tackling climate change.

We will get better results focusing on what works.

Success comes in tangible improvements to the environment, not how closely we can stand by a particular ideology.

Our second principle is that innovation and technology will be crucial to meeting any target.

Technological change will drive much of the solution to climate change – and a National government I lead will invest more in this.

We are already seeing opportunities to shift our transport sector to renewable energy through the uptake of electric vehicles.

Households can generate renewable energy themselves with micro-hydro, solar and wind.

And at Oxford University they’re developing natural gas electricity generation that actually strips carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Our third principle is that we need to get the incentives right to drive long-term changes rather than imposing short-term shocks.

Households and businesses, scientists and entrepreneurs should all contribute to a low-carbon solution.

The best way to do that is to continue to use market-based price signals such as the ETS where it helps to drive behaviour change.

But we should also recognise that where technology does not exist to mitigate emissions, adding a tax just makes that industry worse off without reducing global emissions.

Fourth, New Zealand must act, but never in isolation.

Climate change is a global issue that requires a global response.

Moving ahead of other countries risks pushing industries from New Zealand to overseas – meaning we simply export emissions offshore rather than driving global change.

That’s exactly what we’ve seen with the Government’s oil and gas decision – ending natural gas exploration here will simply result in more coal being burnt in China, actually increasing global emissions.

And finally, we must always consider the wider impacts on the economy – on jobs and incomes for New Zealanders.

The solution cannot be limited to driving up costs on New Zealand households so they use less energy.

We can and must ensure that the environment and the economy are mutually supportive.

These five principles:

- science-based

- technology driven

- long-term incentives

- global response, and

- economic impact

will inform the work we do on policies to reduce emissions.

That applies to future targets for emission reductions.

The previous Government set an ambitious 2050 target for emissions reductions, which will already be challenging to achieve. Any change would need to meet the test of the principles I have set out.

Similarly, those five principles are the tests that need to be met before agriculture faces costs under the ETS.

The policy doesn’t currently meet that threshold.

On science, the main emission from agriculture is short-lived methane, not long-lived carbon dioxide. The two gasses should be treated differently – as recommended recently by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and the Productivity Commission.

On incentives, the current lack of mitigation options means the only behaviour change it will likely drive is the culling of herds – which risks simply moving food production overseas, where taxes haven’t been imposed. Moving from efficient Kiwi farmers like you, to offshore farms that pollute more.

Each of these factors may change over time – so while it doesn’t meet the threshold now, it may do in the future.

Ladies and gentlemen.

I am very upbeat about the agriculture sector’s capacity to deliver a less carbon intensive future, and continue to showcase our innovation to the world – if we stick to a science-based, technology-driven, global response.

I believe Government should partner with the primary sector to develop practices and technologies to improve our environmental footprint

Addressing climate change isn’t easy. We all know that.

But if we are all pulling in the same direction we can make a difference and ensure that our beautiful natural environment is preserved for our grandchildren and their grandchildren.

There isn’t a silver bullet solution to environmental problems. It’s always complex, but there’s never any answer unless you prioritise the problem.

I will be doing that.


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