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Let's have a green economy taskforce

Let's have a green economy taskforce

By Gary Taylor

Dr Don Brash's Productivity Taskforce Report is disappointingly short on practical measures to lift New Zealand's performance. Its prescription is to cut government spending, lower taxes, restructure Fonterra, deregulate Zespri, build more mines and lower environmental standards. That's about it.

I was expecting exciting ideas on how to lift productivity, create new jobs, release the wealth generated by Treaty settlements, add value to commodity exports, create new low-carbon industries, respond to rapidly changing markets and exploit our new trade agreements.

I was expecting some forward-looking analysis of the kind of world we will be living in by 2025, and what that means for policies today, but instead the taskforce looked back to the 1980s for inspiration.

Most of the Taskforce's ideas are so extreme, and lacking in coherence, that no government would implement them. The Prime Minister was forced to disown the Report on the day it was launched. What were they thinking?

My main concern with Dr Brash's Report is the lack of appreciation of the importance of New Zealand's environment. The Report is right when it says that a strong economy gives us the ability to maintain high environmental standards. But it then goes on to infer that we should do away with the RMA. That is just ridiculous. It would turn us into a third world country and remove our key competitive advantage: the quality of our environment.

How could Jeremy Moon, who is a practical innovator with Icebreaker and who built his business on our environmental record, have lent his name to such unrealistic, backward-looking nonsense?

The Report goes on to recommend opening most of our publicly-owned conservation lands to mining. But New Zealand's conservation lands have outstanding natural and scenic values that should be protected. They also support one of our biggest export earners, the tourist industry. They are not the west Australian deserts. In any case, the profits from the Australian-owned mining companies would add to Australia's GDP, not ours.

So what do we do now, given the country has been let down so badly by the Productivity Taskforce?

First, when thinking about comparisons with Australia, we should bear in mind that Australia is facing an uncertain and troubled future: climate change is seeing the red centre expand and muscle out the green coastal fringe where people live and food is produced. In contrast, the prospects for liveability in New Zealand are good. We should rejoice in the quality of our lifestyles, our environment. Our quality of life is high. GPD per capita shouldn't be the only comparative measure we use.

Then we should move on to some serious thinking about the economic transformation that's needed for us to adapt and survive as a trading nation, remote from markets, in a rapidly changing world.

I'd like to see the establishment of a Green Economy Taskforce that would come up with some practical suggestions on how to create new, sustainable, low carbon jobs. It could also consider rolling out our tourism brand as a national brand: 100% Pure New Zealand.

The Green Economy Taskforce would build on the ideas generated by the New Zealand Institute, especially growing "weightless exports" - products that can be transported via broadband - such as creative and technical services. It would look at how to transform our tourism and agricultural exports by developing niche products linked to our clean, green brand, and at our emerging biotechnology and cleantech sectors.

I'd bring forward-thinking business, science and academic leaders together and get some real creative horse-power at work to think about what New Zealand's economy should look like in 2025.

Gary Taylor is with the Environmental Defence Society www.eds.org.nz.


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